Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique originally used to resolve emotional responses to trauma.
The method utilizes rapid alternating eye movements similar to those which accompany dream sleep. The movements of dream sleep (REM or "rapid eye movement" sleep) seem to enable the brain to process and store recent events. Ordinarily this processing occurs regularly with the events of the day. However, when a trauma occurs, it seems to get locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings. The traumatic event does not go through the normal processing and storage. The eye movements in EMDR can unlock the nervous system and allow the brain to resolve the experience.
Many clients successfully treated with EMDR report significant and lasting improvement in target areas of treatment. For some, it provides more rapid resolution of long standing difficulties as compared to traditional therapy.
Eye Movement is the movement of the eyes in a pattern similar to the involuntary motion during REM or the fourth stage of sleep, the stage in which dreaming occurs. It is believed that the movement is related to the brain activity involved with information processing and the mechanisms which coordinate cognitive and emotional learning. Alternatives to eye movement, such as auditory signals or tapping of the hands, are also used.
Desensitization is a process of changing an emotional response from being highly emotionally charged to neutral. In traditional forms, desensitization involved pairing relaxation with anxiety provoking stimuli until relaxation could be maintained. In EMDR desensitization involves moving the eyes in a particular pattern while focusing on a memory of a problematic event including the physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts associated with the event until the emotional distress level is lowered to neutral.
Reprocessing is a process which changes the negative self-image and belief emerging from a problematic experience to a positive and affirming belief about one’s self. Reprocessing uses the same eye movement technique to integrate new ideas and foster a sense of resolution.
EMDR was developed in 1989, by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., and is a growing and innovative therapy. Since its discovery, the initial research demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR in reducing trauma, anxiety, panic, and phobias. Subsequent conferences have reported on the use of EMDR with eating disorders, addictions, depression, grief, learning disabilities, family therapy, marital/relationship counseling, behavioral disorders, dissociative disorders and sex offenders. Additional applications include the development of leadership skills, enhancing of career performance and peak performance in sports. EMDR is being used with children and adolescents for a variety of learning , emotional, and behavioral problems including ADHD.