EMDR therapy: pain relief without pills

Those who suffer from conditions which cause them constant pain are always looking for ways to cope. Reliance on painkillers can cause problems with addiction and other dangerous side effects. EMDR can provide relief.

Woman's eyes showing how EMDR can help with pain

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is an acronym for 'Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing'. EMDR is a powerful psychological treatment method that was developed by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro, in the 1980s. As a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute, she published the first research data to support the benefits of the therapy in 1989.

What problems can EMDR help with?

A wealth of research has been conducted demonstrating its benefits in treating psychological trauma arising from experiences as diverse as war related experiences, childhood sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect, natural disaster, assault, surgical trauma, pain relief, road traffic accidents and workplace accidents. Since its original development, EMDR is also increasingly used to help individuals with other issues, such as addictions, weight loss, depression, anxiety problems such as phobia’s, OCD and performance anxiety. EMDR has been found to be of benefit to children and adolescents, as well as adults.

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Lack of attention or disregard; a condition in which one side of the body or visual field are neglected. Full medical glossary
A physical injury or emotionally painful event. Full medical glossary

What happens during the EMDR Therapy sessions?

During the first two or three sessions of EMDR Therapy the therapist will be explaining the nature of acute and chronic pain, assessing the pain and any trauma history and discussing with the client what may have happened that brought the client to therapy now. During this phase of treatment a number of techniques will be used to help the client better manage their daily life and assessing the potential targets for EMDR Therapy. Once both the client and therapist think that the client is ready for the Desensitisation phase of EMDR, the therapy begins.

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A disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. Full medical glossary
A physical injury or emotionally painful event. Full medical glossary
Tapping for EMDR

What happens during the desensitisation phase of EMDR?

The client focuses on thoughts that he may find difficult, be they of pain or emotional distress for a few moments at a time. While this is happening, the client also focuses on an external stimulus – this may be eye movements, as directed by the therapist, or hand tapping. The idea behind EMDR is that it goes straight to the traumatic memory network, so that new associations are created between the traumatic memory and the information the client has received in the EMDR session. It’s believed that EMDR creates new neural pathways, allowing the emotional and physical symptoms caused by the issue to subside, and new positive ideas and sensations to take their place.

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Relating to injury or concern. Full medical glossary
A physical injury or emotionally painful event. Full medical glossary

Does EMDR Therapy help with pain?

Pain can occur for many reasons. We generally understand pain as a signal that something is wrong physically. However, sometimes pain can continue longer than expected, despite medical treatment. Pain can persist because of fatigue, stress, and biochemical changes. As a result of these changes, the pain becomes “locked” in the nervous system. EMDR is a way of stimulating the nervous system to facilitate healing. Even though we might not be able to completely eliminate your pain, EMDR often stimulates feelings of relaxation, which will help.

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The system that gathers and stores information and is in overall control of the body. The brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system. Full medical glossary
Relating to injury or concern. Full medical glossary

Why is EMDR Therapy effective at dealing with trauma and pain?

We know that trauma memories are stored on the right hand side of the brain, known as the right hemisphere. This is more of our emotional and body memories and feelings are stored here. Some of these memories can cause physical as well as emotional pain. EMDR works in the same way as sleep does when we are dreaming. This is when we process what has been happening to us and our brain decides which information it needs to hold on to and which information to let go of. The left hemisphere is more of our thinking brain and this is where our language centre is. EMDR connects the right and the left hemispheres of our brains allowing the processing of trauma memories and pain. Of course, not everyone who has pain has experienced physical or psychological trauma, but we all know that being in constant pain is traumatic and EMDR can help with this too.

A physical injury or emotionally painful event. Full medical glossary
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How long are the EMDR sessions?

Most sessions take place over a 50 minute period. However, for some clients, it may be advantageous to have longer sessions over a shorter time frame. Your therapist will discuss this with you at the time of the assessment.

When can I expect to see results from EMDR therapy?

Each client is totally unique and will come with their own personal histories and experiences, so it is always difficult to say exactly how many sessions will be required. It is not unusual for clients to report that are noticing changes in their condition quite quickly. Your therapist will be able to discuss with you how many sessions that they feel may be required, once the initial assessment has taken place.