EMDR Background


The History

EMDR was first discovered in 1987 by Dr Francine Shapiro, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute (in Palo Alto, USA) when she was suffering from disturbing memories that caused her to experience negative emotions.

Whilst walking in a park one day, Dr Shapiro realised that the act of moving her eyes as she thought about her own distressing experiences helped to decrease the negative emotions which those experiences created. She investigated further and carried out some research on how this finding could be applied to psychological conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She published the first research data to support the benefits of the therapy in 1989. Since then EMDR has been used to treat a wide range of major and minor conditions.

Theory behind EMDR

All humans are understood to have a physiology-based information processing system which handles the multiple elements of our experiences and stores memories in an accessible and useful form. 

In turn, memories are linked to networks that contain related thoughts, images, emotions and sensations. Learning occurs when new associations are forged with material already stored in memory.

Distressing events leading to psychological trauma may make the processing system malfunction. As a result, the distressing event can be left associated with only negative images, beliefs and sensations. Therefore, whenever an individual thinks of the traumatic event, they draw on only bad memories as the experience has yet to be effectively processed and stored in the appropriate way.

Dr Shapiro’s theory proposes that EMDR can be used to help process these stressful events by addressing the components of the contributing distressing memories and realigning these with more adaptive information. A variety of neuro-biological techniques, including rapid eye movement desensitisation are used, and thought to mimic the process by which Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep supports memory consolidation. Learning then takes place, and the experience is stored with appropriate emotions, able to appropriately guide the person in the future.

The techniques forged by EMDR can be adapted for a range of disabilities/capabilities, including audio and visual impairment, and learning difficulties, by drawing on the relevant stimuli.