Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is recognized as a highly effective and efficient therapy for the permanent elimination of the symptoms of stress and trauma.
It was developed in the US in 1989 by American psychologist, Francine Shapiro, and is now recognized by many regulatory bodies in the UK, Europe, South America and the Middle East including:
• The World Health Organization (2013)
• The American Psychiatric Association (2004 & 2009);
• The US Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs (2004 & 2010), and
• The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (2000 & 2008).
EMDR (www.emdria.org) is regulated by the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA), which oversees the training, certification and consultation of EMDR therapists throughout the world.
WHAT IS EMDR USED FOR
First used with victims of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) with symptoms like flashbacks, phobias and panic attacks, EMDR is effective with all of these, as well as with anxiety, depression, over-reactive anger, intrusive thoughts, irritability, worrying, disturbed sleep, and so on. In fact, EMDR is effective with anything that causes us to say we are “stressed out”.
HOW DOES EMDR WORK
EMDR essentially mobilizes the brain’s own healing abilities.
When bad things happen, they happen first to the body, then the emotions kick in, and then the brain starts to reprocess them. You ‘sleep on it’, you think about it, you get support from friends & family, and after some time has passed, while you still remember the negative experience, you no longer feel upset about it. You can probably bring to mind some trauma in your life which you still remember clearly, but which you feel neutral about. You have peace with the memories. This is an example of the brain working the way it should.
Sometimes, however, the reprocessing gets stuck, and you don’t have peace. This is where EMDR comes in; it desensitizes and reprocesses negative memories and issues. EMDR is an excellent way of releasing the pain from the past, to free up your resources for the present and future.
In EMDR therapy, you think about something that is upsetting to you – like a traumatic memory – and you follow the therapist’s hand waving back and forth in front of your eyes. (Actually, you don’t need to use eye movements for EMDR – the same effects can be achieved working with a headset and alternating auditory tones for example.) This ‘back-and-forth’ or bilateral sensory stimulation reactivates the information processing system of the brain. The idea here is that trauma, or difficult issues, sometimes get stuck in the information processing system of the brain, along with their emotional or even physical content.
EMDR & REM SLEEP
So, what is happening when you are doing this therapy? Neurobiological research out of Harvard has shown EMDR and REM sleep to involve the same kinds of activity in the brain. EMDR may be a conscious, accelerated version of what your brain is doing when you are in REM sleep, or the dreaming stage of sleep. Many decades ago, researchers noticed that when we dream, our eyes move back and forth rapidly, naming this phase of sleep the “Rapid Eye Movement” or REM stage of sleep. And what are you doing when you’re dreaming? You are reprocessing your experiences. So, the connection between this ‘back and forth’ activity and reprocessing seems less odd, when you think of it in connection with REM sleep.
Important: a properly trained clinician can only do EMDR, and recommend that you ensure this therapist receives ongoing consultation from a certified EMDRIA consultant.