Information overview of EMDR Therapy

EMDR is an evidence based (well supported by extensive scientific research) form of psychotherapy most often used to treat trauma related symptoms. EMDR works at the level of the information processing systems of the brain. It involves the use of sensory stimulation on both sides of the brain (bilateral stimulation) which engages the nervous system to allow for the processing of information (memories) that have been improperly stored due to the distressing nature of the original experience.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-processing, and was first developed by a psychologist named Francine Shapiro. Her work in this field has led to an unprecedented amount of research in the use of EMDR. In particular, it has been researched in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder. Please visit her website www.emdr.com, where her library contains thousands of references to studies and articles on the effectiveness of EMDR.

When scary, dangerous, or emotionally overwhelming (sometimes called traumatic) events occur, the brain shifts into a very basic, primal level of functioning focused on self-protection (fight, flight or freeze reactions). It seems that information stored during such experiences often remains activated long after the event is over. This information is stored in the right hemisphere (emotion and sensory based). Most long-term memory of our life is stored in the left hemisphere and is stored in the form of words and images that can be recalled and described (explicit memory/narrative memory). EMDR seeks to allow improperly stored and unprocessed emotional memories to be brought up and to be re processed, allowing for the discharge of the energy stuck in the nervous system and the often very fast and effective shift from an intense emotion/sensory packed memory to a factual, neutral memory, stored in words and not so much sensation/emotion.

EMDR psychotherapy is an information processing therapy and uses an eight phase approach to address the experiential contributors of a wide range of problematic symptoms. It attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for an issue, the current situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health.

EMDR requires an important assessment and history gathering process and followed by a preparation phase before beginning into reprocessing. Clients are prepared to deal with emotion with the use of various resourse development exercises to ensure they are able to help themselves regulate emotion effectively and use imagery to create a calm and relaxed body state.

During treatment various procedures and protocols are used to address the events that have contributed to the concerning symptoms or reactions. One of the procedural elements is “bilateral stimulation” using either back and forth eye movements, auditory tones or light taps on alternating hands or knees. During the reprocessing phases the client attends momentarily to past memories, present triggers, or anticipated future experiences while simultaneously focusing on a set of external stimulus. During that time, clients generally experience the emergence of insight, changes in memories, or new associations. The clinician assists the client to focus on appropriate material before initiation of each subsequent set.

EMDR is also used to enhance and develop positive states, an approach called Resource Development. For example, people can work on becoming more “confident”, more “relaxed” or whatever resource state they wish to have more of available to them.

Article How EMDR therapy works
The Role of EMDR in Medicine