Trauma & EMDR

A traumatic event is any experience which is associated with strong negative emotions. Examples include sexual assault or violence, being in or witnessing a motor vehicle accident, witnessing an unexpected death, public ridicule, performing badly in front of one’s peers, critical put downs by parents or others, and any form of emotional abuse. The emotions and bodily reactions created at the time of the traumatic event can cause the brain to store the experience differently from an everyday event.  

Non-traumatic memories generally fade over time, losing their detail with a clear sense of being in the past.  Traumatic memories are recalled as though they are happening in the present and are experienced as flashbacks, disturbing dreams, or a sudden sense of re-living the event.

What is a “Traumatic Memory” and how does it differ from a normal memory?

We can think of the memory of a traumatic event as consisting of three components: the sensory memory, the emotional memory, and its meaning.

The sensory memory is where the details of sight, sound, smell, etc. are encoded. Our  recollection of a recent trauma often consists of sensory fragments of the event, rather than a complete and coherent memory.

The emotional memory is often called the “body memory”, reactivating the body sensations associated with the event. Many people try to avoid talking about the event, or avoid possible reminders of the event. A person may experience a general sense of hyper-arousal such as increased irritability, sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties, being easily startled, and being on guard. The person’s mind may try to distance the emotional component of a traumatic memory by a process called “dissociation" which can be experienced as a sense of emotional numbness.

The meaning that the event has for the person is then applied to other situations subsequent to the traumatic event, triggering emotional and behavioural reactions long after the original traumatic event occurred.

For example:

Traumatic Event

Sensory Memory (images, sounds, e.g.)

Emotional/Body Memory


A motor vehicle accident

The sight of the other vehicle filling the windscreen a fraction before impact

Fear, tensed muscles, knotted stomach

I’m not safe.

Sexual Assault

Being held down, seeing the wild glare in the attacker’s eyes, the smell of alcohol on his breath

Terror, numbness

I’m helpless, I can’t trust men

Being criticised in front of colleagues

Seeing everyone staring at me, some people are sniggering

Shame, embarrassment, blushing and sweating

I’m incompetent and useless. People think I’m an idiot


What happens when a trauma memory resolves?

Memories of trauma will often resolve over time - the sensory memory becomes less detailed, more distant and no longer evokes a strong emotional charge. The memory is completely resolved when you have a useful perspective of the event that feels true. For example, if you were a shop keeper who was being robbed, you would be able to recall the memory of the robbery, and at the same time think to yourself: “It’s over, I did well, I can keep myself and others safe.” If these thoughts feel right, if they have the ring of truth, and are not just empty words, then it is assumed that resolution has been achieved.

What about the situation when Resolution does not happen naturally?

Trauma memories may settle and resolve naturally over a few weeks, but for many people they do not. When problems persist from the trauma the condition is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

  • Recurring or distressing memories that happen while awake or in dreams
  • Sudden flashbacks to the traumatic event
  • Distress triggered by reminders that link back to the traumatic event
  • Avoiding or attempting to avoid thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma
  • Avoiding activities, places, and people which trigger recollections of the trauma
  • Diminished interest in normal activities
  • Being emotionally distant
  • A pessimistic view of the future (atypical for the client)
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • A sense of being on guard
  • Easily startled




The memory is detailed, vivid, “in your face," it seems more recent than it actually is, and it may be relived through dreams or flashbacks.

The memory is less vivid and less detailed. It has lost its sense of immediacy. It has become a part of one’s history. Sleep is not disturbed, and flashbacks do not occur.

The memory continues to have a strong emotional charge when discussed or thought about.

The memory can be recalled or discussed without significant distress.

Current events which have some element in common with the trauma event will reactivate the memory and its distressing emotions. Patterns of avoiding situations or activities may develop as a result.

Current events which have some element in common with the trauma event no longer reactivate the old memory and its distressing emotions. A person no longer avoids normal situations or activities.

The person carries negative or limiting beliefs from the traumatic event into their present life.

The person can recall the traumatic event, but also think and believe more positive and useful thoughts about themselves in the present.

If you would like to assess whether an event is still causing you distress, an Impact of Events Scale questionnaire may give you ore insight:


I help people resolve trauma by creating a safe environment in which the experience can be desensitised and given new meaning.  Working on the trauma can be difficult initially, if the person often has tried to avoid the trauma memory. While avoidance does help in the short term, much research has shown that it can make the avoided memory even more distressing.  This is where EMDR can be a powerful solution.


In 1989 a new therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was found to rapidly resolve trauma memories.  Studies have now demonstrated that EMDR is more effective and efficient in resolving trauma compared with ANY other psychological or psychiatric treatment, including medication. It is recommended by NICE and the World Health Organisation.

During EMDR, you will be guided to deliberately bring into conscious awareness the sensory memory, thoughts, and the accompanying emotions and bodily sensations.  I manage your anxieties whilst you access these memories as part of the EMDR skillset.  Then, by using rapid eye movements (following a moving light) and other dual attention stimulation the stored trauma memory can quickly change and be processed.

During the eye movement the therapist does not talk or offer suggestions. The client does not try to change any aspect of the memory, and is asked to just notice the experience, to observe their memory, emotions, bodily sensations and thoughts. Commonly the emotional or bodily sensations reduce in intensity quite quickly. Once the trauma memory no longer triggers feelings of distress, the client is asked to associate a more useful thought to the now more distant trauma memory, using further sets of eye movements.

The EMDR process is complete when the new perspective feels true even when the old memory is recalled. This entire process may take as little as fifteen minutes, or several  sessions depending on the degree of distress.  Where there are several different experiences underlying the client’s difficulties, it may take a number of sessions to fully resolve them.

If you feel as though you cannot discuss the distressing memory, it is possible to still resolve the trauma without me even knowing what the memory is.  This has been achieved with many clients I have worked with who have not wanted to tell me what the event was.

This is a powerful technique which has long lasting results that has changed people’s lives.  I often have clients tell me that they wished they had done this sooner and that it has permanently resolved experiences that years of talking therapy has not.

As an accredited practitioner with EMDR UK association and EMDR Europe, I have received many hours of robust training, adhering to the proven methods and have regular professional clinical supervision.