Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy. It is based on the adaptive information processing model and was initially developed to treat trauma. Over recent years, there has been a growing body of research to show its efficacy for other presentations and conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, social anxiety, health anxiety, to name a few. EMDR for performance enhancement is used for issues, such as performance anxiety, procrastination, fear of public speaking, self-limiting beliefs and low-self esteem. Many of these can negatively impact a person taking and seeking out opportunities, career progression, and positive risk-taking.
EMDR for performance encompasses a whole spectrum viewpoint, involving the mind, body and spirit and works at optimal functioning in work and other life areas. It has been developed by bringing together knowledge and research from the human potential movement, positive psychology, sport psychology and health psychology.
EMDR works by accessing specific memories (thoughts, images, body sensations and emotions) and uses bilateral stimulation, including eye movements, tactile and auditory stimulation, to process these memories and decrease disturbance attached to these memories. EMDR taps into the brain’s natural ability to heal, so when the memory is recalled, there is little or no associated disturbance.
Past experiences impact future performance; for example, a child that forgot what to say during a school play and got laughed at may spend much of their adult life avoiding public speaking or being the centre of attention for fear of being laughed at again. EMDR practitioners use bilateral stimulation to help a person access the distressing incident and then reprocess it.
Once any past incidents have been processed, EMDR is then used to focus on the present and the future, focusing on future situations that cause anxiety and fear, both real and hypothetical. Following this, a future template is created; this sets the person up for success and often includes themes, such as achievement and performance. Positive beliefs and images are installed that help a person gain confidence in their ability to perform in a given area. EMDR removes blocks and ‘stuckness’, including negative self-beliefs and enables accessing strengths and newfound confidence.
Accredited therapists can be found at www.severnwellness.co.uk and www.emdrassociation.org.uk
Barker, R. T., & Barker, S. B. (2007). The use of EMDR in reducing presentation anxiety. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 1(2), 100-108.
Bennett, J., Bickley, J., Vernon, T., Olusoga, P., & Maynard, I. (2017). Preliminary evidence for the treatment of performance blocks in sport: The efficacy of EMDR with graded exposure. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 11(2), 96-110.
EMDR research foundation (2019). Clinical newsletter. Available at https://emdrresearchfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019_Vol-7_Issue-2_EMDR-and-OCD_-CN-March-2019.pdf
Lendl, J., & Foster, S. (2009). EMDR performance enhancement psychology protocol. In M. Luber (Ed.), EMDR scripted protocols. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co