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Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)


What It Is

EMDR was developed in the 1987 by Francine Shapiro. She was walking in the park, thinking about something distressing and noticed that as she moved her eyes back and forth, her overall distress decreased. She researched this phenomenon further and eventually created EMDR therapy. EMDR stands for Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and operates on the premise that by using eye movements we can allow our brain to desensitize negative emotions and reprocess them so that they no longer bother us.

How It Works

Our body processes and consolidates memory in one of the four stages of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This stage is when most of our dreaming occurs and during this stage of sleep our eyes move back and forth rapidly. The current hypothesis on dreams is that they are metaphors to work through difficult events, emotions, and beliefs and rapid eye movement helps process them through bilateral stimulation, activating both sides of the brain in an alternating pattern. When the brain works as it should, events in our life are processed without causing problems, but sometimes the brain gets stuck and can't process what it needs to. This is where EMDR steps in. EMDR therapy takes the body's subconscious and natural process and makes it a conscious process.

EMDR works in two basic stages. The goal of the first stage is to reduce the intensity of negative emotions. ​In EMDR a distressing memory of a traumatic event or belief is chosen and focused on while simultaneously moving the eyes back and forth, mimicking our natural subconscious process. As EMDR continues, the traumatic experience or belief gradually becomes less distressing over time until it no longer triggers the patient. The second stage focuses on choosing and installing a positive belief about oneself until it is completely believed. Once the positive belief is installed, EMDR is considered complete for the target event or belief.

For example, let's say Jared wants to do EMDR due to feeling anxious in social situations. Jared may not consciously recognize it, but he has a subconscious belief that is creating his social anxiety. A therapist helps Jared identify that his fear is that he feels like no one likes him which creates his anxiety around others. EMDR would target his subconscious belief of "No one likes me" until the thought isn't distressing anymore. Then Jared would choose a positive belief that he would rather believe such as "I am likeable" and would continue EMDR until he fully believed it.


EMDR's Effectiveness in Therapy

EMDR therapy sounds like an alternative therapy or even that it's too simple to work but it has impressive results across many empirical studies. It is one of the top five research-based trauma treatments in the world and studies have consistently shown rapid and permanent improvements in clients with trauma and other psychological diagnosis. On average, clients take between 3-6 sessions to work through any given issue with traumatic incidents taking slightly longer. Some clients experience significant relief in as little as 1-2 sessions.

Not only does EMDR work quickly but it also works more effectively than traditional therapy techniques. Many therapy techniques focus on how to deal with difficult emotions and handle them in more healthy way. Over time, these forms of therapy become very effective at managing difficult emotions but they never fully get rid of them. In this way traditional therapy is like treating a cut that never fully heals. Our instinctive emotional reactions never go away, but we do get better at managing the inconvenience they cause us. EMDR is different because it can completely eliminate our negative beliefs and emotional responses to situations or events.

Due to how EMDR works, what takes months or years of therapy can be accomplished in significantly fewer sessions with more comprehensive and permeating results. Instead of a therapist giving their best guess at how to help you heal, EMDR helps the brain reconceptualize and reformat negative experiences, allowing it to lead the healing process in a safe and therapeutic environment. EMDR is an effective treatment for all kinds of psychological issues including trauma, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), CPTSD (complex PTSD), various forms of anxiety, depression, self-esteem and insecurities, phobias and feelings of fear, sensory sensitivities, etc. 


Who is EMDR Therapy Appropriate For?

EMDR is best known for its effectiveness in the treatment of trauma, but it’s also an effective treatment option for a wide variety of mental health conditions. EMDR is among the top five trauma therapies in the world, so anyone suffering from any psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), or even just traumatic memories, is particularly suited for EMDR. EMDR is also effective for any psychological diagnosis involving emotional distress or many issues that can also be addressed with behavioral therapy. Anyone struggling with anxiety disorders or phobias, depression, self-esteem issues, personality disorders, or any diagnosis that focuses on distressing events or negative thought patterns is a perfect candidate for EMDR.
EMDR is not an effective type of treatment for resolving biologically based diagnoses, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, and other similar disorders. EMDR can still help those struggling with these diagnoses by helping them work on issues that bring them distress, but it can't change the chemicals in the brain that impact these diagnoses. Behavioral therapy may be a good option for those seeking help with these diagnoses if behavioral problems persist even after EMDR.

EMDR Brain Scan.jpg
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