What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. Clinicians have also reported success in using EMDR to treat panic attacks, complicated grief, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, phobias, pain disorders, performance anxiety, stress reduction, addictions, sexual and/or physical abuse, body dysmorphic disorders and personality disorders.

EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.

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 1989, she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Since then, EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.

How does EMDR work?

No one knows exactly how EMDR 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, and smells, and feelings haven’t changed. It’s like reliving the past in the present. Such memories can have a lasting negative effect on the way a person sees the world and relates to other people that interferes with her or his life.

EMDR 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 appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

How long does EMDR take?

One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR more fully and provide an opportunity to answer questions about the method. Once the therapist and the client have agreed that EMDR is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR therapy may begin.

A typical EMDR session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR may be used within a standard “talking” therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.

verified by Psychology Today
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