Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a method of psychotherapy that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. To date, EMDR has helped an estimated two million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.
How Does EMDR Work
No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment 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. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.
EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain 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. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, 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.
What does treatment look like? As outlined by the EMDR network:
A Brief Description of EMDR Therapy
Eight Phases of Treatment
The amount of time the complete treatment will take depends upon the history of the client. Complete treatment of the targets involves a three pronged protocol (1-past memories, 2-present disturbance, 3-future actions), and are needed to alleviate the symptoms and address the complete clinical picture. 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” does not mean talking about it. “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. Negative emotions, feelings and behaviors are generally caused by unresolved earlier experiences that are pushing you in the wrong directions. 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.
Although EMDR may produce results more rapidly than previous forms of therapy, speed is not the issue and it is important to remember that every client has different needs. For instance, one client may take weeks to establish sufficient feelings of trust (Phase Two), while another may proceed quickly through the first six phases of treatment only to reveal, then, something even more important that needs treatment.
What kind of problems can EMDR treat?
Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:
Sexual and/or Physical abuse
Body dysmorphic disorders
Excerpts from: F. Shapiro & M.S. Forrest (2004) EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Anxiety, Stress and Trauma. New York: BasicBooks.
Excerpts from : EMDR International Association
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