Understanding EMDR

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach initially developed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR has since evolved and proven effective for a wide range of psychological conditions, including depression. This therapy helps individuals process and integrate distressing experiences through guided eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation (BLS), such as tapping or auditory tones.


The premise of EMDR is that traumatic or distressing experiences can become "stuck" in the brain, leading to ongoing psychological difficulties. EMDR aims to reprocess these memories, reducing their emotional charge and allowing for healthier cognitive and emotional responses.

During EMDR sessions, therapists guide clients through a structured eight-phase process. This process includes the identification of distressing memories, the use of BLS to facilitate processing, and the installation of positive beliefs to replace negative ones.

EMDR and depression

While EMDR is widely known for its effectiveness in treating trauma-related conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), research has shown it can also be highly effective in treating depression. Here’s how EMDR can help:

  • Processing root causes: Depression often stems from unresolved trauma or distressing life events. EMDR helps individuals process these root causes, reducing their impact on current mental health.
  • Changing negative thought patterns: By reprocessing distressing memories, EMDR helps replace negative beliefs associated with those memories with more positive, adaptive thoughts.
  • Reducing emotional distress: EMDR can decrease the intensity of negative emotions associated with traumatic memories, which can alleviate depressive symptoms.
  • Enhancing self-esteem: The positive beliefs installed during EMDR can improve self-worth and self-esteem, which are often compromised in individuals with depression.

Conditions that can be treated by EMDR

In addition to depression, EMDR is effective in treating a variety of other mental health conditions:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): EMDR is best known for its success in treating PTSD, helping individuals process traumatic memories and reduce symptoms.
  • Anxiety disorders: EMDR can alleviate anxiety by addressing and reprocessing underlying traumatic or distressing events.
  • Panic disorder: The therapy helps manage panic disorder by reducing the emotional impact of triggering memories.
  • Phobias: EMDR can help desensitise individuals to phobic triggers by processing the memories and beliefs associated with their fears.
  • Complex trauma: For individuals with a history of multiple traumatic events, EMDR provides a structured approach to process and integrate these experiences.
  • Grief and loss: EMDR helps individuals process the intense emotions associated with loss, facilitating healthier adjustment and coping.
  • Addictions: By addressing underlying traumas that contribute to addictive behaviours, EMDR can support recovery from substance use disorders.

The 8 phases of EMDR

EMDR therapy follows a structured eight-phase approach designed to comprehensively address the client’s distressing memories and current issues:

  1. History taking: The therapist gathers a detailed history to identify target memories and understand the client's background.
  2. Preparation: Clients learn about the EMDR process and develop coping strategies for managing emotional distress.
  3. Assessment: Specific memories and associated negative beliefs are identified for processing.
  4. Desensitisation: The therapist uses BLS while the client focuses on the distressing memory, allowing it to be processed and integrated.
  5. Installation: Positive beliefs are installed to replace negative ones associated with the processed memory.
  6. Body scan: The client focuses on any residual physical sensations linked to the memory to ensure complete processing.
  7. Closure: Each session ends with techniques to ensure the client feels stable and safe.
  8. Re-evaluation: At the beginning of each new session, progress is reviewed, and new targets are identified as needed.

How EMDR works in practice

A typical EMDR session involves several key components:

  • Targeting distressing memories: The therapist and client work together to identify specific memories that are causing current distress.
  • Bilateral stimulation: Using eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones, the therapist facilitates the processing of these memories.
  • Processing and integration: Clients process the memories, reducing their emotional charge and integrating them into a more adaptive framework.
  • Positive belief installation: The therapist helps the client develop and strengthen positive beliefs to replace the negative ones.

Choosing the right therapist

Selecting a therapist trained and experienced in EMDR is crucial for effective treatment. Hope Therapy offers a team of qualified therapists who specialise in EMDR and other therapeutic modalities. They can help match you with a therapist suited to your specific needs and goals.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful therapy that extends beyond trauma treatment to effectively address depression and other mental health conditions. By facilitating the reprocessing of distressing memories and installing positive beliefs, EMDR helps individuals overcome the underlying causes of their psychological distress. Whether dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other issues, EMDR offers a structured and evidence-based approach to healing and recovery.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge CB5 & Oxford OX4
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services
Cambridge CB5 & Oxford OX4

Hope Therapy offers UK wide, Mental Health and Wellbeing Support via Coaching, Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), EMDR, Hypnotherapy, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.

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