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What is EMDR…

Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprossessing (EMDR) is a powerful method of psychotherapy that has helped over two million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress.  EMDR treats pain from disturbing life experiences, past & present, by jump-starting stalled information processing in the mind & body.  It desensitized negative thoughts, feelings, & body sensations, and activates positive resources.  It can be used to resolve traumas improve relationships, alleviate performance anxiety, and enhance overall functioning.  

EMDR is listed as a category “A” treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense and is listed in the practice guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association.

How EMDR was 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 EMDR works…

No one knows exactly how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain.  However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their 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, & feelings haven't changed.  Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information.  Normal informations processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer re-lives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind.  You still remember 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 & less distressing way.

What an actual EMDR session is like…

During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session.  The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, heard, felt, thought, etc., & what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about themselves & 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 & values.  Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing, & is associated with positive self-beliefs.

For more information, go to www.emdr.com , www.emdria.org , & www.emdrhap.org .

Sources:  EMDRIA, William Mimms Weathers, PhD, MSW, P-LCSW