top of page

Exploring EMDR Therapy for Chronic Pain: A Warrior's Journey


Quote in pink background explaining how EMDR relates to chronic pain

This article examines how EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) may help chronic pain and shares my personal journey so far with this therapeutic approach.

I have endured chronic pain for twenty years and I have tried every treatment method Imaginable. I used to feel very insulted by the mere idea of anyone implying that chronic pain had a psychological aspect to it, mainly because of the medical gaslighting I have faced. This is not to say that I think chronic pain is purely psychological, but after exhausting all other options, I have become more willing to explore different theories.

EMDR aims to unstick and reprocess intense memories in the brain. By doing so, it desensitises individuals to the emotional impact of these memories, allowing them to think about the events without overwhelming feelings (EMDR Association UK, 2020)


So, how does this help chronic pain?

Sadly, like many people I have experienced trauma in my past especially in my childhood. According to the Institute for Chronic Pain, approximately 90% of women with fibromyalgia and up to 60% of patients with arthritis report experiencing trauma at some point in their lives. In comparison, individuals dealing with chronic pain typically exhibit at least twice the prevalence of previous trauma when compared to the general population (Institute for Chronic Pain, 2024)

The link between emotional trauma and chronic pain is profound. While trauma may not directly cause chronic pain, it significantly increases vulnerability to its development. Stress and pain create a cycle, perpetuating one another. Stress worsens pain by causing tense muscles and increasing inflammation. Trauma and unresolved emotional issues contribute to this pain-stress cycle (Pathways, 2020).


Dr Andrew Keefe (Psychotherapist) explains that EMDR directly addresses chronic pain at the nervous system and brain levels. Let’s break it down:

1. Neuropathic Pain: Imagine a scenario where the brain keeps signalling pain even after physical damage has healed. It’s like one part of the brain believes the damage persists, while another knows the body is fine. EMDR steps in to recalibrate this communication.

2. Focusing on Pain: EMDR hones in on the pain itself, along with the emotions, thoughts, and images it triggers. Then comes bilateral stimulation—following the therapist’s fingers or tapping collar bones in sync. Both brain hemispheres engage, allowing information to connect within neurons.

3. Calming the Brain: The brain’s “healed” part communicates with the “continuing damage” part, calming it down. This process, called adaptive information processing, switches off pain signals.

4. Trauma Memories: EMDR also tackles underlying traumatic memories. By reducing triggers, it lessens adrenaline, cortisol, inflammation, and ultimately pain. (Counselling Directory, 2021)


Therapist and client - EMDR and chronic

At the outset of my EMDR journey, I faced challenges accessing a therapist through the NHS (The UK health service). Despite not meeting their criteria, I was fortunate to receive therapy privately via support from my family. My initial therapist, while well-intentioned, didn’t provide the therapeutic compassion I needed. Discussing traumatic events requires openness, and unfortunately, I couldn’t achieve that with the first therapist. Thankfully, I sought out a different therapist, resulting in a more positive experience. Over five assessment appointments, we explored how my past connects to my beliefs and potentially influences my chronic pain. We have also explored ‘my happy place’ which is a visualisation to support me if I became distressed by the memories we explore in therapy. Each person’s journey is unique, and mine continues to unfold. I will write a further blog article to share my progress.

If you are looking for an accredited EMDR therapist, click below –



Wishing you all the best,

Catrina xx


References

Institute for Chronic Pain, 2024 - www.instituteforchronicpain.org

Therapy Image - Designed by Freepik


Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page