EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of psychotherapy treatment used to assist individuals recovering from a trauma or highly distressing event or events. EMDR was first discovered in the late 1980’s by Francine Shapiro, a psychologist, who realized that a gentle back and forth gaze could be calming when recalling a distressing experience. Since that time Dr. Shapiro has devoted her professional career to EMDR research, developing treatment protocols, and training professionals.
Initially, EMDR was thought to be an improbable, if not impossible, shortcut to traditional talk therapy. However, over the years numerous highly regarded and well-replicated studies have shown that EMDR can be very effective in reducing the sometimes debilitating symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
We now know that positive outcomes with EMDR can be obtained with other methods, such as alternating left-right tapping or auditory left-right stimulus. There are several theories about why this works to decrease the experience of emotional and physical trauma. Researchers have found changes in brain electrical activity and brain wave activity following treatment with EMDR. It is thought that these changes are important components to adaptive processing of traumatic experiences. The treatment of traumatic memories in this way leads to decreased intensity of symptoms, decreased reactivity to emotional triggers, and increased adaptive coping.
EMDR is considered a relatively safe psychotherapy treatment. However, it requires an experienced clinician and adequate preparation to be successful and avoid any potential re-traumatization. First and foremost, it is important to establish a positive and safe therapeutic relationship with your therapist. Next, your therapist will assist you in building your coping skills and securing a support network. Then you and your therapist will determine together the event or experience to process with EMDR. You will explore the thoughts, feelings, and physical experience associated with the identified event and you will determine positive affirmations associated with your goals for change. Following an EMDR session you may feel emotionally and/or physically fatigued. Your therapist will assist you in finding ways to cope with the emotions and thoughts that may arise from EMDR. Communication with your therapist is essential for the best outcomes.
- EMDR International Association: What is EMDR Therapy? EMDRIA.org
- EMDR Institute, Inc: What is EMDR? EMDR.com