Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is a form of psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro. It was originally used with war veterans who suffered from PTSD. However, it is now used to treat any form of trauma (see next FAQ). In its original form, the therapist guides the client in concentrating on a troubling memory while the client moves their eyes rapidly back and forth (by following the therapist’s fingers). This rapid eye movement, which occurs naturally during REM sleep, leads to accelerated processing of the troubling memory (i.e., speeds up the e healing process). Many therapists now use other methods to stimulate the right and left hemispheres of the brain, such as pulsars in the hands, auditory beeps through a headset, or tapping on one’s knees or feet.
EMDR Therapy is used to treat troubling symptoms such as anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and post-traumatic reactions. It can also be used to enhance emotional resources such as confidence and self-esteem. It is believed that in many cases, traumatic experiences are at the root of maladaptive symptoms. Thus, the therapist interviews the client regarding traumatic experiences, and a treatment plan is developed to reprocess those events. No trauma is too small; if it bothered you then, and still bothers you now, it is unfinished business that needs to be resolved.
EMDR Therapy is different for everyone, because the healing process is guided from within (just like our body knows how to heal a paper cut). However, in a typical session, we choose a memory or theme to work on, and then the therapist asks the clients some key questions about the event that help to activate the memory. Then, the therapist applies bilateral stimulation to the brain (e.g., eye movements, pulsars, auditory beeps, tapping) and the client simply notices what happens. Sometimes past issues or memories come up. Sometimes emotions are felt. Sometimes body sensations are experienced (e.g., a lump in the throat, heavy arms). These experiences occur as the brain naturally desensitizes and reprocesses the memory. The result is a sense of calm rather disturbance, and adaptive thinking instead of maladaptive thinking. These effects are lasting because the memory has now been worked through and is now stored in a different part of the brain.