EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is a form of psychotherapy that relies on eye movements to help reprogram the brain. Francine Shapiro developed EMDR therapy in 1989. She noticed that while she recalled a stressful thought, her eyes moved involuntarily. When she brought the movements under voluntary control, she became less anxious.
Stressful events are known to adversely affect many people. EMDR is based on the theory that persistent, prolonged reactions to trauma are due to partially or entirely unprocessed memories. EMDR is believed to be related to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) that occurs during deep sleep. Through a similar process to REM sleep, EMDR is thought to release and assist in the processing of traumatic memories. It is believed to help alleviate trauma symptoms and is often used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. EMDR has also been used to treat panic attacks, phobias, stress, and addiction.
People often believe emotional trauma takes a long time to resolve. EMDR therapists believe the mind can heal from trauma much as the body recovers from injury. When the body is injured it will recover; if something remains in the wound, or re-injury occurs, the wound won’t heal. Healing can happen, once the blockage is removed from the wound. Practitioners believe EMDR is the instrument that can clear the blockage from a mental injury.
EMDR patients are first asked to recall a traumatic event or image. Next, the practitioner performs different kinds of sensory input, such as hand tapping or side-to-side eye movements during part of the session. The EMDR therapist pinpoints a memory to serve as a starting point and continues performing therapy through eye movements and other sensory strategies.
EMDR therapy has eight phases. In the first phase, patients are asked a series of questions to obtain a patient history. In the next phase, the practitioner assesses the client’s coping mechanisms and emotional support systems. In phases 3 through 6, the practitioner targets specific memories for EMDR treatment. In these phases, the client is asked to recall a vivid image, a negative self-belief, and any related emotions or body sensations. Then the client formulates a positive belief. Phase seven is closure. Clients are asked to keep a log during the week. The practitioner examines the patient’s progress in phase eight.
Many patients report decreased anxiety from EMDR therapy. Studies have shown that EMDR produced effects similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. EMDR therapy, like other forms of psychotherapy, may create a short-term temporary increase in anxiety. Sometimes upsetting or unresolved memories re-emerge. EMDR therapy can make memories of events unclear; this should be taken into consideration if factual information may be required in court or another setting.