We have struggled to find peace throughout human history. Life is unpredictable, often in distressing ways. Occasionally, someone will find unexpected ways to cope with the hard parts of life. These breakthroughs can be life changing for those experiencing extreme forms of stress or healing from trauma.
Such is the story of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR). EMDR is an increasingly popular form of psychotherapy. Its primary focus began with the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and healing from trauma.
Currently, it’s also proving effective in coping with everyday stresses, such as test taking and dental visits. It has even been used for treatment of skin conditions and pain management.
The History of EMDR
Psychologist Francine Shapiro was recalling some disturbing memories as she walked through a park in 1987. She noticed that her eyes moved back and forth in a particular way as she was remembering her experience and noted that the thoughts did not upset her as much when her eyes moved as they did.
Dr. Shapiro began trying to deliberately move her eyes when recalling difficult memories. She then began testing whether it would help others to process more complex or disturbing experiences. Through many trials and studies, she was able to develop a systematic process to guide individuals through coping with difficult emotions relating to traumatic memories.
What to Expect
EMDR is based on a eight phase model:
- Gathering the your history and planning treatment
- Preparing for the treatment
- Choosing the target memory
- Recalling the memory and recognizing its effects while exercising eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (BLS)
- Installing positive beliefs
- Recalling the memory again to observe physical signs of distress
- Reviewing stress reduction techniques to bring closure
- Reevaluation to determine how well the treatment worked and the next steps
EMDR treatments may be personalized to meet your individual needs. Occasionally, other tools are used in place of eye movements, such as sounds or tapping. These alternatives can be substituted according to provider or patient preference and may be preferable for patients with sensory sensitivities.
How It Works
Interestingly, there is still much debate on how EMDR works. One of the more popular theories is that its effectiveness is due to mimicking the eye movements that occur in sleep. During sleep, we experience rapid eye movement (REM) while we dream. Our subconscious tries to process disturbing thoughts through our dreams. EMDR is able to speed up and aid this process by using the body’s natural response to trauma.
Furthermore, another theory is that the back and forth movements increase communication between the brain’s two hemispheres. It is thought that this enables you to recall stressful events without the negative reactions typically involved.
Who Uses It
We have come a long way from that walk in the park in 1987. EMDR is now recognized as an effective treatment method by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense.
EMDR is proving to be an effective treatment in a growing number of situations. It is now being used as a practical approach to managing more commonplace problems than PTSD and deep trauma. More people are turning to EMDR for its efficient, systematic approach to reduce stress of all kinds.
Exploring EMDR Further
Use of EMDR outside of a doctors office is not advised. While the ideas behind EMDR are seemingly simple, this treatment is best left to professionals. This is especially true when exploring trauma or complex disorders.
Within a clinical environment, it has proven reliably to be safe and effective. If you feel that EMDR Therapy may be right for you, please reach out to develop a plan for treatment.