What is EMDR therapy?

What is EMDR, and how can it help mental health problems?

If you have a mental health issue, however mild or severe, it’s important to find the right treatment. There are a number of solutions available nowadays that have proved effective, including CBT and mindfulness.
One less well-known approach is EMDR or eye movement desensitisation reprocessing.

First advocated over 30 years ago by Dr Francine Shapiro, it has proved a potent therapeutic tool, particularly for treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

What is EMDR?

Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing is a therapy that helps people recover from problems that have been triggered by past traumatic events.

woman's eyes in mirror

While it has been used a lot in treating individuals with PTSD, it may also have applications for a variety of mental health issues including work-related stress, depression and anxiety. It can be used as a starting point for therapy and is used in conjunction with other approaches such as CBT.

How Does EMDR Work?

Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may be unable to process the enormity of what happened to them fully. Recall can be so intense and the brain can often appear to be so stuck in a loop that the strength of the memory (and its psychological impact) remains vivid and problematic.
EMDR works to help unstick this cycle and desensitise the individual by using certain simple physical actions. A person may be asked, for example, to recall the traumatic event while being subject to a small physical stimulus at the same time. This could be simply moving the eyes from side to side, hearing a sound in alternate ears or feeling a tapping sensation on alternate hands.

While this sounds very basic, it is a complex process. It’s thought that adding the stimulus makes the brain work harder. That means the individual is focusing less on the traumatic event and automatically reducing its intensity. Over time, the person distances themselves from the event and they are better able to control it.

In Europe, one of the biggest advocates of EMDR is Ad de Jongh from the University of Amsterdam who has undertaken a lot of research in this area. While most of the initial studies have focused on PTSD, recent research has begun to look at how EMDR can be used to treat mental health conditions such as depression and low self-esteem that may be influenced by past traumatic events.

Woman looking at her eyes after successful EMDR


When we think of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, we often focus on ‘soldiers who have been in war situations. It’s a mental health problem that can affect anyone who has had an adverse situation in their lives and it is more common than many people think.

With PTSD, this past event (or events) remain vivid and intense despite the passing of time. It’s something which affects a person’s life so markedly that they are unable to function properly. EMDR has been clinically shown to reduce the impact of PTSD by helping reduce the intensity of the experience.

Stress (Work-related stress)

Work-related stress continues to affect many of us in modern society and has lead to various mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. EMDR, along with other therapies such as CBT and mindfulness, are used to help individuals cope with their daily stress and help reduce its impact.

Woman depressed and low-mood sitting alone in room avoiding people

Low mood

While we all suffer a low mood at some time, if this type of feeling persists, it is often a symptom that something more serious is going on. A qualified therapist will look at a variety of things when helping to diagnose someone with any psychological problem.
In some circumstances, EMDR may prove an effective treatment, but your therapist will also look at options such as CBT, health and fitness and whether mindfulness practice can help.

Low self-esteem

Poor self-esteem usually has several different causes and develops over a long period. There is some emerging evidence that EMDR will help improve things.

A therapist may, for example, get the person to close their eyes and think back to the first time when they had negative feelings about themselves and use alternate tapping to reduce the intensity.

This can help the individual approach negative times in their lives that previously may have been too painful to think clearly about. Used in combination with a therapeutic approach such as CBT, it is possible to help people overcome their problems with low self-esteem and have a more positive outlook on life.


1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from some form of depression and, along with anxiety, it remains one of the most prevalent mental health issues of our time. Depression has a wide variety of causes and treatment will depend on a number of factors.
EMDR may well be able to help those whose depression has an underlying cause of some past traumatic event, and there is evidence to support this.

Woman stressed and anxious clutching her head in cramp


EMDR can again help to break the association between the cause of someone’s anxiety and the feelings themselves. Again, it’s generally used in conjunction with another therapy such as CBT to develop more positive feelings and behaviours further.


Anger is generally a symptom of other issues and, for some people, psychological damage. It may be caused by perceptions of past events and investigating the root causes of someone’s anger issues is something a therapist will work through to find the underlying cause. EMDR may be used as a part of this along with other therapies.


As with many mental health problems, trouble sleeping can have a wide range of different causes. Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for anyone. A disorder could be caused by psychological conditions such as PTSD, work-related stress, as well as health conditions such as illness and poor diet.
It’s the job of the therapist to explore the underlying reasons why someone has a sleep disorder, and EMDR may again be a suitable treatment for some cases, at least in the initial stages of exploration.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are often very intense and debilitating, and EMDR can help individuals disassociate themselves from these feelings so that they can begin exploring the root causes and finding solutions.

Woman addicted to smoking


Drink, food and drug addiction also have a deeper underlying cause, and this may well involve past traumatic events. EMDR should help individuals to explore their past and, along with therapies such as CBT, enable them to find ways to reduce their addiction.


The majority of phobias start in childhood and gradually worsen as we grow up to be adults. There is emerging evidence that EMDR can be used to face an individual’s fear and help reduce the intensity of their feelings and find coping mechanisms.

Woman happy after EMDR

If you feel yourself or someone you know can benefit from EMDR (which we uniquely and with great success combine with CBT and Mindfulness) then please contact us on 020 3951 7285 or via our contact page.

What is CBT?

What is CBT, and how can it help mental health problems?

CBT stands for Cognitive (thoughts and images) BehavioursTherapy. This kind of therapy focuses on thinking and behaviour patterns and how you can learn to change these to help overcome challenges in your life. It involves a collaborative approach, with an individual working closely with a qualified CBT therapist.

Also called ‘talking therapy’, CBT is a different way of looking at your mental health. With any mental health issue, certain ingrained feelings can lock you into a cycle where your condition gets worse rather than better over time. CBT works to help you overcome these challenges.

While other therapies take a more detailed look at your past and what has caused your problem, CBT is more focused on the here and now and how to handle your feelings. Things are not necessarily considered negative or positive, and the focus is on how thoughts and behaviour patterns can influence our feelings and how these can be changed.

Depression and woman and cbt

Feelings, thoughts, behaviours and physical sensation are treated as a whole and not individual events. For example, you are taught to observe your thoughts and behaviour and how these impact on your life at any given time.
CBT is a viable, evidence-based treatment option that has been shown to work for a variety of mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression. By stopping the cycle of negative thoughts, it helps break down the barriers to recovery and gives an individual control over their mental health.

How Does CBT Work?

CBT works by looking at five parameters:

● The situation you are in (a social gathering, alone at home).
● The thoughts you have about it (negative or disruptive thoughts).
● The emotions you experience (e.g., fear, self-loathing).
● The physical feelings you may have (e.g., sweating, increased heartbeat, high levels of anxiety).
● The actions you take (e.g., avoiding certain situations)

Let’s say you have anxiety and feel very uncomfortable in social settings. Your thought process may mean you are scared of making a fool of yourself or perhaps you are introverted and don’t know what to say when in a group. Your emotions can be ones of fear, and this might manifest in getting short of breath, a heightened heart rate and a tightening of the throat when presented with a social event. Your action would be to avoid such situations.

CBT is about turning this cycle around and changing, for example, the way you think about social situations and putting a different, more positive spin on them. While CBT is a gradual process, it’s also a highly pragmatic one that addresses the issue at hand and focuses on the current problem rather than what went before (although looking to the past may also be a part of the therapy).

1. Stress (Work-related stress)

Stress is a part of life, and in small doses, it is a positive biological response that releases cortisol and adrenaline to help us perform better. If stress is continuous and unending, however, it can have a detrimental impact on our health, affecting short-term memory, causing a low mood and reducing productivity.

Man work related stress needing CBT

CBT allows us to change our thought process relating to stress. For example, when we’re stuck in traffic, we’re not stressing about getting to that all-important meeting but using the time to be calm and maybe listen to some relaxing music.

2. Low Mood

This can affect us all. We don’t feel that we can be bothered, have low energy levels and are less active than usual. This type of problem can have numerous causes, including hormonal changes.
If your low mood continues, however, it could be the sign that something else is wrong. Turning to more positive thoughts with CBT will help overcome periods when you are not feeling at your best.

3. Low Self-Esteem

Many people don’t think they are good enough. Low self-esteem stops you reaching your goals and often becomes a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. CBT is ideally suited to helping with this kind of problem by encouraging you to look at the positives rather than the negatives.

Man with Low Mood needing CBT

4. Depression

According to the World Health Organisation, around 246 million people suffer from depression across the globe. A study in Oxford in 2016 highlighted the effectiveness of CBT:
“The study found when CBT was given; in addition to usual care that included antidepressants, it was effective in reducing depressive symptoms and improving quality of life over the long term – on average 46 months – for patients whose depression had not responded to medication. These benefits were found, on average, 40 months after the end of therapy.”

5. Anxiety

We often think of anxiety as bad but it’s a natural, biological response. Understanding and learning to cope with situations via CBT that cause you to be nervous and which elicit a heightened response can greatly reduce the impact that anxiety has on your life.

6. Anger

Angry woman needing CBT

Controlling anger is something that is not uncommon in modern society. You may feel that your identity is being attacked or that your expectations have not been met. CBT is highly suited to helping anger management issues by changing the way we see the world and our interpretation of it.

7. Sleep Disorders

While sleep disorders also occur because of medical issues, many people are affected by psychological problems that hamper their ability to sleep. Even the act of worrying about getting enough sleep can have an impact on our nighttime rest. CBT allows you to find solutions that improve sleep and create a healthier bedtime cycle.

8. Panic Attacks

Woman getting a panic attack needing CBT

Panic attacks are quite common and can be very debilitating when they occur. You heart races and your breath becomes shortened, and it’s difficult to speak. You are generally putting catastrophic thoughts onto something that is not necessarily out of the ordinary, for example, socialising in public or going for an interview.
CBT involves learning how to replace anxiety-inducing thoughts with more positive ones and using techniques such as meditation and mindfulness.

9. Addictions

Addiction takes many forms and usually have a; in impact on someone’s life. With CBT, it’s about looking at negative or dysfunctional thought patterns. For example, you may believe that taking a drink in the morning gives you confidence. Taking a particular drug might relieve you of the anxiety you feel concerning a past episode in your life. CBT is about replacing dysfunctional and damaging beliefs with better-suited ones.

CBT and Happy Woman in yellow field

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy has a wide range of applications and works by altering how we perceive and think about the negative things in our lives. By interrupting ingrained cycles, individuals can move away from damaging behaviour and lead fuller and healthier lives.

If you feel yourself or someone you know can benefit from CBT (which we uniquely and with great success combine with Mindfulness and EMDR) then please contact us on 020 3951 7285 or via our contact page.