Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

While walking through a park in 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro observed, by chance, that as her eyes swept back and forth distressing thoughts and stress reactions diminished. She decided to experiment with the concept and its affect upon trauma patients. As a result she developed a method of treatment for post traumatic stress disorder that has gained credibility and acceptance in medical circles today.

Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs after frightening and traumatic experiences such as combat, rape, physical assault or sexual abuse, accidents or disasters. Anxiety, distressing memories, nightmares and insomnia are some of the myriad symptoms of PTSD. The primary method of treatment until recent years has been cognitive behavioral therapy, a process that gradually exposes the victim to circumstances reminiscent of the trauma, slowly reducing the fears in the person. This particular approach usually takes months or even years to achieve successful alleviation of symptoms.

Along with psychotherapy, PTSD is also treated with drugs. Several years ago the US Food and Drug Administration approved an antidepressant named Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride) to address the condition. However, Zoloft works only as long as the patient takes it and it does not address the cause of the illness, only the symptoms. When the person stops taking the drug, the symptoms return. Many people who have experienced very slow progress or perhaps have not been helped with more conventional therapies find that with EMDR they have had good success – they have found something that works for them.

A New Type of Treatment

EMDR has been proven to be a fast, safe and effective way to deal with PTSD without the use of lengthy treatments, drugs, or hypnosis. It is non-invasive collaboration between a patient and therapist that can evoke healing in just a few weeks. It is a powerful and short-term therapy that is effective for PTSD as well as other conditions like chronic pain, phobias, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders and poor self-image. Stress and worry, stage fright and performance anxiety can also be treated effectively.

Theories about how EMDR works are continually evolving, but what is certain is that it is effective and extremely beneficial. It involves recalling a stressful event from the past and then reprogramming the memory with a positive, self-chosen belief using rapid eye movements to facilitate the process. Elements of cognitive behavioral therapy are combined with bilateral eye movements or other forms of left to right stimulation – such as sound moving from the left ear to the right ear or tapping on the hands. As the patient thinks or talks about memories, triggers, and negative or painful emotions that are associated with the trauma she or he is focused on the movement of the therapist’s fingers or other bilateral stimuli.

What Happens in Trauma

When a traumatic event occurs there are accompanying strong emotions that interfere with the ability to process the experience fully. As a result, that moment of trauma becomes frozen in time in the memory as well as in the body. As the person recalls the event in the present, everything associated with it comes back and they may feel like they are reliving it again, with all of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings intact. The memories, when activated, cause a negative impact on the person’s life in the present, interfering with daily functioning and relationships.

How EMDR Helps

EMDR releases the memories allowing resolution. Over a short period of time the distressing memories as well as the feelings, beliefs, emotions and sensations can be processed or worked through to the point where the person is able to think about the situation without the negative mental, emotional and physical reactions of reliving it. The memory exists but the power is gone from it. The original trauma can be reframed in a more positive way.

EMDR can be thought of as therapy that is physiologically based, allowing a person to see a situation in a new and less distressing way.

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