What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) psychotherapy is an information processing therapy. EMDR is effective for a wide range of conditions. It addresses the past experiences that helped build the pathology, the current situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health. During treatment various procedures and protocols are used to address the entire clinical picture. One of the procedural elements is “dual stimulation” using either bilateral eye movements, tones or taps. During the reprocessing phases the client attends momentarily to past memories, present triggers, or anticipated future experiences while simultaneously focusing on a set of external stimulus. During that time, clients generally experience the emergence of insight, changes in memories, or new associations. The clinician helps the client through the process so that the experience is healing and not re-traumatizing.

How was EMDR developed?

Dr. Francine Shapiro, while treating Vietnam veterans in the late 80’s, discovered that the use eye movements can help lessen the intensity of disturbing thoughts. Numerous studies throughout the world have affirmed this phenomenon scientifically and found her theory to be extremely beneficial in treating the effects and symptoms of trauma, including, panic, anxiety, hopelessness, toxic shame, and many others recurrent problems. EMDR has developed and advanced through the help of many professionals all over the world.

What can EMDR treat?

EMDR was initially associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; however, many experts have seen success using EMDR to treat other conditions including panic attacks, addictions, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, anxiety disorder, phobias, performance anxiety, stress reduction, complicated grief, and sexual and/or physical abuse.

How does EMDR work?

No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their frontal lobe (the processing part of our brain that involves behaviors like decision making, planning, problem solving and thinking) stops working and we are unable to process information normally. The event is not processed and it 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. The feelings, images, sounds and smells have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person interacts with people and the world around them.

EMDR seems to unfreeze the brain and helps it to processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. 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.

Goals of EMDR

The goal of EMDR therapy is to leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviors and interactions. EMDR does this by processing completely the experiences that are causing problems, and include new ones that are needed for full health. Processing means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be digested and stored appropriately in your brain. That means that what is useful to you from an experience will be learned, and stored with appropriate emotions in your brain, and be able to guide you in positive ways in the future. The inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded.