WHAT IS EMDR?
EMDR is a relatively new technique used in psychotherapy. It was developed in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro, a psychologist, for rapid treatment of anxiety and traumatic memories. Since then it has been applied to a wide variety of issues. EMDR stands for Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
This technique involves the therapist eliciting rhythmic, bilateral eye movements from the client. At the same time, the client is asked to focus on an image or memory, feelings and physical sensations created by the memory, or negative beliefs about the self associated with the memory.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
This procedure is extremely effective in releasing disturbing images, feelings, and negative beliefs, resolving traumatic memories, and in eliminating symptoms such as anxiety, emotional disturbances, nightmares, flashbacks, low self-esteem, dysfunctional behavior, and phobias. It helps to integrate “blocked” memories into a healthier self-image and outlook.
EMDR brings unconscious, repressed or forgotten information and aspects of a person’s experience into consciousness quickly. It helps clients discover answers for themselves by strengthening positive beliefs, feelings, and experiences and desensitizing negative experiences.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
No one is sure exactly how it works. It appears to work by a process similar to what occurs in the brain during REM sleep which is thought to be a key information processing period. REM sleep helps us cope with upsetting incidents, making life’s difficulties more manageable by a process still not understood. A shock to the system such as a traumatic incident keeps us from coping. When a trauma occurs, that processing gets disrupted and doesn’t work. The brain goes into shock and the experience gets frozen in our nervous system and the mind just repeats the information over and over again. When we use eye movements, the blocked processing is opened up and accelerated. It’s like unpacking a log jam. It brings information to conscious awareness quickly. When various aspects of a memory are retrieved, it allows for integration which enables a person to move forward in their life.
The EMDR therapist is specially trained to guide the client through the memories, images, feelings, body sensations, and negative beliefs until they are resolved. The natural healing ability of the brain kicks in and transforms what is “negative” into positive.
WHAT KINDS OF PROBLEMS IS IT USED FOR?
EMDR has been successfully used to treat: anxiety, depression, performance anxiety, disturbing or traumatic memories, smoking, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, nightmares, shame and low self-esteem, panic attacks, phobias, negative beliefs about the self, eating disorders, grief reactions, post-traumatic stress disorders, sexual dysfunction, chemical dependency, dissociative disorders, crime victims, and other problems. It can also be used to help people resolve issues that have kept them stuck in dysfunctional relationships.
HOW QUICKLY DOES IT WORK AND WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
With some problems such as trauma, it works almost immediately. People often report relief within hours of the session and usually within a day or two. With other issues, the changes are more subtle.
The benefits are many. They can be relief from disturbing memories, increased self-esteem, increased energy, relief of various symptoms, a more positive outlook on life, and positive changes in behaviors.
HOW WAS IT DISCOVERED?
Dr. Francine Shapiro discovered the process one day while walking in a park. She noticed she was having disturbing thoughts and that after making bilateral eye movements, recurrent unpleasant memories and associations were receding from her mind. She was spontaneously doing the eye movements while concentrating on the images. When she purposely repeated the process---evoking disturbing thoughts and moving her eyes in the same manner---the results were consistent. The thoughts disappeared. She then refined the eye patterns in experimental sessions with volunteers. Then she tested EMDR on rape victims and Vietnam veterans who were having persistent traumatic memories. It proved very effective in alleviating the memories’ disturbing characteristics.