What is EMDR?
(Adapted from the EMDRHAP website)
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a cost-effective, non-invasive, evidence-based method of psychotherapy that facilitates adaptive information processing developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD in the late 1980’s. EMDR is an eight-phase treatment which comprehensively identifies and addresses experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural resilience or coping capacity, and have thereby generated traumatic symptoms and/or harmful coping strategies. Through EMDR therapy, patients are able to reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disruptive.
How Was EMDR Developed?
In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically, and in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma. Since then EMDR has developed and evolved through the contribution of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements of many different treatment approaches.
How Does EMDR Work?
No one knows exactly how any form of psychotherapy works neuro-biologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, that individual’s brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way the person relates to other people.
EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following successful EMDR sessions, a person no longer re-lives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. The client still remembers what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically-based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.
What Is An Actual EMDR Session Like?
During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session. The client brings to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, heard, felt, thought, and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about themselves and the event. The therapist facilitates directional movement of the eyes and/or other dual attention stimulation of the brain, while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control the direction or content. Each person will process information uniquely based on personal experiences and values. Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive self-beliefs.
Research Published on EMDR
Can Eye Movements Treat Trauma? Recent research supports the effectiveness of “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing”.
- Click HERE to read an article about EMDR in the New York Times
- A gulf war soldier finds hope after a series of traumatic experiences in his life. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) plays an important roll in his recovery. Click HERE the CBS News report.