The therapeutic process of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was originally discovered by psychologist, Dr. Francine Shapiro in her own efforts to deal with a personal upsetting memory. She then tried it out with individuals suffering from trauma. After many decades of demonstrating the usefulness of EMDR in helping individuals suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), EMDR has been expanded to treat other mental health issues and to be more of a process than a specific method or technique.
The idea is that early upsetting events sometimes get stuck in our memory and negatively impact on how we think, feel and behave. The EMDR process helps individuals to become “unstuck”.
The basic procedure involves the client thinking about aspects of their trauma while the therapist has the client follow the therapist’s fingers making a series of bi-lateral movements. The bi-lateral movements facilitate the reprocessing of the “stuck” memory, thoughts, or bodily sensations.
Hundreds of studies over several decades attest to the usefulness of EMDR for a number of psychological related problems including post-traumatic stress, anxiety disorders, depression, addictions, etc.
EMDR is not without its critics and skeptics. However, when used by well-trained and seasoned therapists, certified in EMDR, modest success tends to be the rule rather than the exception.
In my own practice, I have experienced individuals with long term, complex and serious problems feeling better and get better in relatively short period of time. My follow up with these clients seem to indicate the long-term improvements hold over time.
There are many certified EMDR practitioners from different mental health professional and theoretical orientations throughout the United States and worldwide. The EMDR process seems to integrate a number of these approaches. My own background is in cognitive behavioral therapy and in hypnosis.
There are eight stages to the EMDR process and clients proceed at their own rate. The first few sessions involve history taking and education about the EMDR process. This is followed by teaching stabilization exercises and establishing target memories. I have written on the process and EMDR applications in articles and blogs available on my website, www.cognitivetherapy.cc.
In my experience, EMDR treatment tends to be most effective for recent trauma that has occurred once and is done: For example, a car accident. Also, the stronger the coping and support resources an individual has, the better the result tends to be. However, I have worked with many clients that have had PTSD associated with physical, sexual and emotional abuse, rape and life threatening accidents.
Dr. Francine Shapiro, the originator of EMDR has recently written a book written primarily for the layperson which is a helpful guide to understanding EMDR and what to expect in therapy.