By: Nancy Tikunoff, IMH
What is EMDR?
The EMDR acronym stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It is a psychological treatment based on a scientific model of adaptive information processing (AIP). The theoretical basis for it was formulated by the founder Dr. Francine Shapiro who found that traumatic or problematic events and their later memories sometimes are processed maladaptively by our brains. The EMDR process allows for those events/memories to be reprocessed in an adaptive manner thus relieving the client's distressing symptoms.
How does it work?
After ensuring that the client feels safe through the creation of resources to assist them in accessing a place of safety, the actual eye movement reprocessing is started.
Hand movements initiated by the therapist & followed by the client's eyes are designed to cause the eyes to move in such a way that allows the brain to correct the way the memory was processed.
Other methods such as tapping, listening with earphones to an alternating tone or having the client hold a sensor feeling the alternating tone by holding it in their hands can be used for clients whose trauma may be triggered by the raising of the therapist's hand to perform the eye/hand movements and are thus unable to tolerate that approach.
What kind of problems is it used to treat?
Research has repeatedly demonstrated its effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other distressing, traumatic experiences. It also has successful outcomes in treating anxiety, fear, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anger, phobias, grief, eating disorders, addiction and depression caused by a variety of distressing life experiences or events including one-time events such as being in a hurricane or multiple events such as repeated sexual abuse.
Clients report decreases or complete resolution of such debilitating symptoms as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, hypervigilance, avoidance of anyone or place that reminds them of the event and lessening of destructive behaviors such as addictions to numb the overwhelming emotions of fear, shame, anxiety and guilt that they are experiencing.
Waving hands, eye movements and tapping tones sound weird to me. Is this a legitimate therapy?
Absolutely. Research findings demonstrate its effectiveness in over 30 randomized controlled clinical trials. The Veteran’s Administration (VA) approves and reimburses it as a first line of treatment for veterans. It is an accepted mainline therapeutic approach.
Am I a candidate for EMDR?
Your EMDR-trained therapist can meet with you to make an assessment whether EMDR is the right therapeutic approach for your particular situation. In addition, certain conditions are not conducive to having the therapy done and you will need to be screened for these.
If you would like more information about EMDR here are some resources to assist you.
Emdrvideo.com (free videos of EMDR sessions)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nylajeG6uFY (Interview with Dr. Shapiro)
“Getting Past Your Past – Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy” by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. (available as an ebook or print version)