How was EMDR developed?
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 a 1989 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, she reported positive results in using EMDR to treat victims of trauma.
Today, EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.
EMDR is a form of psychotherapeutic approach that targets painful memories, thoughts, feelings and somatic sensations helping the client reprocess them in a more adaptive way so new and healthier associations can be formed. The result is that emotional material felt overwhelming or with great intensity in the past becomes more adaptive and loses its “emotional charge”.
Clients report that the painful memories start fading, become blurred or don’t have the same emotional intensity as they used to.
EMDR has the effect of enduring and promoting a “natural” charge. Clients report finding themselves feeling and doing things in a more positive way without being consciously aware of it.
How EMDR works?
We do know that when a person is upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes frozen in time, and remembering a trauma or a situation that was lived as highly difficult 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 a way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.
EMDR has a direct effect on the way the brain processes information—normal information processing is resumed.
The use of EMDR facilitates the resumption of normal information processing and integration.
EMDR procedures facilitate the effective reprocessing of traumatic events or adverse life experiences and associated beliefs, to an adaptive resolution. Specific procedural steps are used to access and reprocess information which incorporates alternating bilateral visual, auditory, or tactile stimulation.
These well-defined treatment procedures and protocols facilitate information reprocessing.
This treatment approach, which targets past experience, current triggers, and future potential challenges results in the alleviation of presenting symptoms, a decrease or elimination of distress from disturbing memory, improved view of self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.
What is the actual EMDR session like?
During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem (called target memory) as the focus of the treatment session. The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen (mental image), felt (any tactile sensations he/she experienced at the time), heard, thought, etc., and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event.
The therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain, while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content.
Each person will process information in a unique way, based on personal experience and values. Sets of eye movement are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about one’s self, for example, the person may be able by the end of the session to verbalize, “I did the best I could”.
During the EMDR session, the client may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session, most people report a great reduction in the level of the disturbance.
EMDR utilizes an 8-phase, 3-pronged (past, present, future) approach to treatment that optimizes client stabilization before, during and after the reprocessing of distressing and traumatic memories and associated stimuli. The intent of the EMDR approach to psychotherapy is to facilitate the client’s innate ability to heal.
Possible clinical presentations that can be treated with EMDR:
Scientific research has established EMDR therapy as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress.
However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR therapy in the treatment of the following conditions:
- Personality Disorders
- Panic Attacks
- Complicated Grief
- Dissociative Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Performance and Social Aanxiety
- Stress Reduction
One or more sessions will be necessary to understand the nature of the client’s problem and to decide whether EMDR therapy is an appropriate treatment.
We will discuss EMDR therapy more in detail and the client will have the opportunity to ask questions about the method and procedures.
EMDR therapy may be used within standard talking therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.