EMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a therapy method designed to treat posttraumatic stress disorder. Research shows EMDR is rapid, safe and effective. It is considered a breakthrough therapy because it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.
Using an 8-phased-protocol, EMDR combines traditional psychotherapies (such as cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, guided imagery, exposure, and mindfulness) with dual attention stimuli (eye movements, tones or tapping) to facilitate neurological and cognitive changes. Some therapists and clients have found a few sessions of EMDR were enough to successfully treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders.
Discovered by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987, EMDR has changed the field of trauma treatment. The first studies focused on treatment of PTSD and found that in some cases it only took 3 sessions of EMDR to treat PTSD from a single traumatic event. Research surrounding PTSD and EMDR continued and the results confirmed EMDR effective for efficient and long-term treatment.
Much of what we know about the brain is theory, so exactly how and why EMDR works is just that…a theory. There is strong evidence to show that trauma alters the brain and is stored in a separate part of the brain from other neutral memories. For most distressing events, there are a series of neurological and cognitive processes which lead to an adaptive resolution, allowing people to find a way to come to terms with a distressing event to help them move on with their life.
During trauma, something redirects this process and the memory is stored in an active, charged state, with the same powerful thoughts, feelings, sensations, and senses as when the trauma originally occurred. The past becomes present and is easily triggered. Researchers believe that EMDR activates processing in the brain that allows the memory to be adapted and integrated in a healthy way. With adaptive processing, the memory becomes a painful event of the past and does not stir the same intensity of emotions and recall as before.
Currently, the American Psychiatric Association, Department of Veterans Affairs & Department of Defense, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, United Kingdom Department of Health (2001), Israeli National Council for Mental Health (2002) and national insurance panels such as Aetna, Cigna and Magellan list EMDR as a treatment intervention for PTSD. Based on additional research, there are now EMDR protocols for treating generalized anxiety, specific phobias, panic attacks, eating disorders, addiction, chronic pain and other disorders, all with the same positive outcomes.
EMDR has offered many people quick relief, but it is not a miracle cure. Most complex problems take much longer than three sessions to resolve, however EMDR is becoming the standard of treatment for PTSD and ongoing research is showing promising results for additional disorders. For more information about EMDR, please visit http://www.emdr.com.
For books on EMDR, please read EMDR: The Breakthrough "Eye Movement" Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma by Francine Shapiro and Margot Silk Forrest, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, 2nd Edition by Francine Shapiro.
By Ashley Kuehne