About EMDR Therapy

EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing


Blue eyeEMDR Therapy is a treatment for trauma and adverse life experiences. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This therapy was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., who in 1987 discovered that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing memories – including their associated images, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Dr. Shapiro’s first study appeared in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1989. In this study, she reported success treating victims of trauma with EMDR Therapy.

How does it work?

Memories are stored in the brain with their associated images, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. When something particularly disturbing occurs, the brain can become overwhelmed and the moment becomes “frozen” so that when it is recalled, it may retain much of the intensity of the original experience. Through a careful recalling of the disturbing experience, the EMDR therapist applies a form of bilateral stimulation, usually eye movements, that have been demonstrated to promote a reprocessing of the elements of the original memory in a way that enables it to be less disturbing and more adaptive. No one knows exactly how the eye movements facilitate this, but it is conjectured that they may trigger a mechanism similar to what happens during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle of sleep. During REM sleep, our dreaming minds process or work through many of our life events.

EMDR Therapy involves standard protocols which incorporate elements of many other therapeutic traditions. However, EMDR Therapy is physiologically based. The therapist carefully guides the client in reprocessing dysfunctionally stored material so that a more integrated and adaptive memory is realized.

Click the link below to watch an ABC News 20/20 video about EMDR Therapy which includes a brief interview with Dr. Francine Shapiro, the originator and developer of EMDR.

Several excellent books are available which provide an in-depth description of EMDR, including how it was developed, and descriptions of cases showing it in action. Probably the best book for the general public is by Dr. Shapiro and Margot Silk Forrest titled: EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Trauma.

Who can be helped with EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy was originally developed to help people with significant trauma. It was initially called EMD – Eye Movement Desensitization, because the eye movements seemed to lessen the intensity of distressful memories. However, it soon became evident that more was going on than desensitization: Memories appear to be reprocessed or stored differently in the nervous system. Though most of the current research regarding EMDR is relevant to trauma, there is a growing amount of clinical evidence to support the usefulness of EMDR Therapy for a wide variety of psychological conditions.

Our lives may be profoundly changed by big “T” traumas; however, small “t” traumas may also affect us deeply. Adverse or disturbing life experiences have a significant role to play in the development and ongoing nature of many conditions: anxiety, panic attacks, depression, low self-esteem, poor performance, somatic disorders, impulsive and addictive behaviors. EMDR Therapy has been found to be effective with all of these and funding is currently being sought to study the broader applications of EMDR for these conditions.

What next?

For more information about EMDR Therapy, visit www.emdr.com or www.emdria.org. If you have had a successful experience with EMDR Therapy, consider donating to the EMDR Research Foundation, www.emdrresearchfoundation.org/, so that many others will be able to benefit from this treatment.

Bill Brislin, LMHC is certified as an EMDR therapist by the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA). He has extensive experience with trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders including panic attacks, grief, and internet pornography addiction.

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