Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is considered a leading approach for alleviating trauma & PTSD related distress. EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1987 when she discovered that certain eye movements decrease negative emotions. The process entails a person thinking about a traumatic memory while experiencing a distraction via bi-lateral stimulation.
A bi-lateral stimulation is stimuli (visual, auditory or tactile) which occurs in a rhythmic left-right pattern. For example, visual bilateral stimulation could involve watching a hand or moving light alternating from left to right and back again. Our brains typically respond well to a rhythmic repetition. The repetition helps to synchronize between the left and the right brain hemisphere as well as to access the REM. Most people find bi-lateral stimulation very calming.
We naturally access REM during a deep state of dreaming. During REM, we reprocess any unresolved current or past issues. EMDR taps into these natural healing processes of REM. The bi-lateral stimulation is used to access the REM state in order to process and consolidate traumatic memories, however, the client is fully awake and cognizant. EMDR is not hypnosis. EMDR is similar to Accelerated Resolution Therapy (A.R.T.), but is not A.R.T.
EMDR, like A.R.T., helps to process distressing memories, but with a greater focus on verbal expression during the reprocessing. EMDR also works more directly with self-limiting beliefs (or so called negative cognitions) by reprocessing the underlying sources of those beliefs and then replacing them with more positive or adaptive beliefs and statements. This process is natural and frequently happens on its own as a result of reprocessing.
EMDR is well researched. Since 1987 over 20 studies have been conducted with positive outcomes. Post-treatment EMDR studies show that once a traumatic event is fully processed, the old memory seems insignificant, faded, without a feeling. This phenomenon is sustained over time. As a result, a person may feel calmer, less triggered, and anxious – as if the weight has been lifted off. The post-studies also show that the brain returns to its normal functioning – the limbic system has quieted down and the pre-frontal cortex has been reactivated. (These areas of the brain can become dysregulated for people who have experienced trauma.)
EMDR can be effective treatment for posttraumatic stress (PTSD), anxiety, depression, phobias, social anxiety, panic attacks, performance anxiety, stress reduction, addictions, sexual and physical abuse, nightmares, and many other concerns. Ina Lasmane is a Certified EMDR Therapist.