What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of losstrauma, and other distressing events. EMDR is a set of standardized techniques that incorporate elements from many different treatment approaches.

A key element of EMDR is the movement of the eyes from side to side. This side-to-side movement stimulates the two halves of the brain, repeatedly. When looking to the right, the left side of the brain is stimulated; then by looking to the left, the right side of the brain is stimulated. This is called bilateral (or two sided) stimulation. Other forms of bilateral stimulation, such as noises in alternating ears or taps on alternating hands, can be used. Using bilateral stimulation, while a person is focusing on distressing events, helps the brain to process the events more completely.

How was EMDR developed?

In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically and, she reported, in scientific journals and books, her success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma. Since then, EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world.

How does EMDR work?

Research is still being done about how any form of psychotherapy works in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. A negative event, such as a loss or a trauma, becomes "frozen in time," and remembering it may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. The negative event tends to be relived repeatedly, rather than being merely remembered. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person functions in the world.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so that, 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. Many types of therapy have similar goals. But, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

The amount of time the complete treatment will take depends upon the disturbing experiences that the client has had. Complete treatment of the target events involves past memories, present distress, and future perspectives. EMDR deals with thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that are associated with the disturbing event(s).

The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the experiences that are causing problems, and to include new ones that are needed for full health. "Processing" means setting up a learning state in the brain that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be "digested" and stored appropriately. That means that what is useful to you from an experience will be learned, and stored with appropriate emotions in your brain, and will be able to guide you in positive ways in the future.

The inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded. Negative emotions, feelings and behaviors are generally caused by unresolved earlier experiences that continue to be troublesome. 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 in the future.