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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy was discovered by Francine Shapiro, PhD and has been used by psychologists, and psychotherapists for over 25 years.  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach. It contains elements of many effective psychotherapies in structured manner designed to maximize treatment effects. These include psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies.

During treatment, various procedures and therapeutic approaches are used to address the entire clinical picture. One of the procedural elements is "dual stimulation" using bilateral eye movements, tones, or taps. During the reprocessing phases, the client attends momentarily to past memories, present triggers, or anticipated future experiences while simultaneously focusing on a set of external stimulus. During that time, clients generally experience the emergence of insight, decreased intensity in memories, or new associations. The clinician assists the client to focus on appropriate material before initiation of each subsequent set.

EMDR Therapy is a powerful newer method of doing psychotherapy. To date, EMDR Therapy has helped an estimated half-million people of all ages receive many different types of psychological distress.

How was EMDR Therapy discovered?

In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts under certain conditions. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically, and in 1989 she reported success using EMDR Therapy to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Since then, EMDR Therapy has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world.

How was EMDR Therapy developed?

No one knows exactly how EMDR Therapy works. 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 on the way a person sees the world and relates to other people that interferes with his or her life.

EMDR Therapy seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain functions. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, the images, sounds, and feelings no longer are relived when the event is brought to mind. What happened is still remembered, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR Therapy appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR Therapy can be thought of as a physiologically-based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

But does EMDR Therapy really work?

A number of scientific studies have shown that EMDR Therapy is effective. For example, the prestigious Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology published research by Wilson, Becker, and Tinker in December 1995. This study of 80 subjects with post-traumatic stress demonstrated that clients improved significantly with EMDR Therapy treatment, and further study showed that this beneficial effect was maintained for at least 15 months. The findings from this and other studies indicate that EMDR Therapy is highly effective and that results are long lasting. For further references, a bibliography of research on EMDR Therapy may be obtained through EMDRIA.

Source: EMDR International Association - www.emdria.org