Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
EMDR therapy is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy which draws on aspects of various effective psychotherapies such as psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies.¹ ² In addition it includes a form of bi-lateral stimulation either through eye movement, tapping, or audio.
Research has shown EMDR therapy to be effective for post traumatic stress. However EMDR therapy has been reported by clinicians as successful in treating many other concerns such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, phobias, sexual and/or physical abuse.
World Health Organization (WHO) endorses EMDR therapy for trauma and loss.³ WHO describes EMDR therapy along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as an advanced treatment that "aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive beliefs related to the traumatic event. Unlike CBT, EMDR does not involve (a) detailed descriptions of the event, (b) direct challenging of beliefs, (c) extended exposure or (d) homework4.
How does it work?
When a person experiences a life event the brain develops neural pathways or memory networks which include images, sounds, smells, feelings, time, place, expectations, and beliefs. Usually these events become normal memories which we use to help inform our decisions, view of the world and our relationships.
However when a person experiences a traumatic event or reacts strong emotionally the brain cannot process information properly. The experience becomes “frozen in time” and can feel as bad when remembering the event as it did when it first happened. With the improperly processed information the brain often draws negative conclusions about themselves, the world and others. These conclusions often continue to negatively affect the person throughout their life.
EMDR therapy seems to directly effect the brain by processing the event with more appropriate emotions, thoughts, and sensations. The traumatic event becomes a memory without its negative qualities and the person is able to resume normal functioning. Some experts believe that EMDR works similar to what occurs naturally during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR therapy helps a person see a traumatic event is a new and less distressing way.
See how EMDR therapy has impacted people's lives on YouTube.
EMDR therapy has been designated as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies.
¹Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
²Shapiro, F. (2002). EMDR as an Integrative Psychotherapy Approach: Experts of Diverse Orientations Explore the Paradigm Prism. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.
³World Health Organization, (6 August 2013), Geneva, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/trauma_mental_health_20130806/en/
4World Health Organization, (2013), Assessment and Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress, mhGAP Intervention Guide Module, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85623/1/9789241505932_eng.pdf?ua=1, p10