Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro, which suggests that disturbing memories are the cause of psychopathology. EMDR is used for individuals who have experienced severe trauma which remains unresolved and is effective at alleviating the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Shapiro, when a traumatic or distressing experience occurs, it may overwhelm normal cognitive and neurological coping mechanisms. The memory and associated stimuli are inadequately processed, and stored in an isolated memory network. The goal of EMDR therapy is to process these distressing memories, reducing their lingering effects and allowing clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms.
Studies show that by using EMDR people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain's information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can causes intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.
Twenty positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR. Some of the studies showed that 84-90% of single-trauma victims no longer had post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions. Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions. There has been so much research on EMDR that it is now recognised as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the Department of Defense. Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, it can easily be seen how EMDR would be effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy. Over 70,000 clinicians throughout the world use EMDR therapy. Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 20 years.
EMDR uses an 8 step protocol during treatment which includes having clients recall distressing images whilst receiving one of several types of bilateral sensory input including side to side eye movements. For a full description of the treatment protocol, please visit the EMDR Institute website here. The use of EMDR was originally developed to treat adults suffering from PTSD; however, it is also used to treat numerous other conditions and it has been demonstrated to be very effective in working with children.
EMDR requires specialist training and ongoing Continuing Professional Development. Please ensure your practitioner is an accredited EMDR therapist – you can do this here.