EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR eye movement desensitization & reprocessing therapy

What is EMDR?

By Steve B. Reed, LPC, LMSW, LMFT

EMDR may be one of the most effective treatments developed in years.

It provides "a way for people to free themselves from destructive memories and it seems to work, even in cases where years of
conventional therapy have failed." -- Hugh Downs, 20/20, ABC News

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy) is a therapeutic technique developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in 1987.  The method was originated by Dr. Shapiro when she noted that disturbing thoughts suddenly disappeared after engaging in a particular type of eye movement.  As she deliberately retrieved the disturbing thoughts, they were no longer upsetting to her.  This positive effect prompted her to retrieve other disturbing images, engage in the eye movements, and note the result.  Upon discovering that a variety of disturbing thoughts and images were no longer
upsetting to her, Dr. Shapiro, began a study to note the effects with others.

Since 1987 this methodology has evolved into a multifaceted approach to treat a variety of different problems with a wide number of populations.  EMDR is frequently used in the treatment of painful experiences and the disturbing feelings and thoughts that accompany trauma.  Additional uses include resolution of grief, anxiety, depression, relief from chronic pain, performance enhancement, and dealing with any unpleasant memory.

The procedure of EMDR treatment involves the client focusing on a disturbing image while the trained therapist facilitates a type of eye movement by having the client follow the movement of the therapist's fingers or a row of lights across the field of vision.

Traumatic images are physiologically and neurologically arousing and this can interfere with the processing of the information in the brain.  Consequently, the experience gets misplaced or frozen in our nervous system.  The effect of trauma on the brain is like having a traffic police officer in your brain which gets very tired and sends the distressing signal to an unauthorized parking zone where it gets stored in the wrong area.  EMDR retrieves the signal and parks it in the authorized zone.

Researchers do not know why (EMDR Therapy) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing works.  The similarities of the eye movement patterns and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep have contributed to theorizing a connection between the two.  Information is processed when dreaming occurs.  Dreaming occurs in the stage of sleep known as REM sleep.  When the client accesses the disturbing image and thought that accompanies the image while moving their eyes back and forth, the information seems to be processing at an accelerated rate.

With EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), feelings of tension are usually significantly reduced, the image seems to change by fading or becoming more distant, and the power of the negative thoughts are often diminished.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing makes the following assumptions about healing:

1.  EMDR therapy uncovers hidden aspects of problems.
2.  EMDR therapy gets you unstuck and allows a natural movement toward healing.
3.  EMDR therapy generates a new perspective of your problem.
4.  EMDR therapy allows you to go directly to you healing destination and eliminate incorrect pathways.
5.  EMDR therapy creates new pathways beyond the limitations of your previous route.
6.  EMDR therapy accesses the natural healing abilities of your deeper self.
7.  EMDR therapy enables your ability to let go.
8.  EMDR therapy installs positive behaviors and allows you to connect to useful resources within yourself.

The research on EMDR therapy has indicated that the effects remain stable over time.  Research on Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has also reported the following positive therapeutic results:

  1. Combat veterans who were not able to be free of symptoms no longer experience flashbacks, or nightmares.
  2. People with phobias revealed a rapid reduction of fear and symptoms.
  3. People with panic disorder reported recovering at a more rapid rate when compared to other treatment methods.
  4. Crime survivors and police officers were no longer disturbed by the after effects of violent assaults.
  5. People have been relieved of excessive grief due to the loss of a loved one.
  6. Children have been symptom free from the trauma of assault or natural disaster.
  7. Sexual assault survivors were able to lead normal lives and have intimate relationships.
  8. Accident and burn survivors who were debilitated are now able to resume productive lives.
  9. Those with sexual dysfunction are now able to maintain healthy sexual relationships.
  10. Clients with chemical dependency have decreased tendency to relapse and show signs of stable recovery.
  11. People with dissociative disorders progress at a rate more rapid than traditional treatment.
  12. Clients with a wide variety of overwhelming events experienced relief from their symptoms with EMDR.
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