Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique that was developed to bring about emotional healing at an accelerated rate. Research began in 1989 after its founder, psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., informally observed that certain eye movements could help reduce emotional tension.

Formal research soon followed where participants exposed specific troubling memories to the technique. Consistent, encouraging results have emerged for the last two and a half decades.

Seeing an EMDR therapist is, in many ways, no different from seeing any other kind of mental health professional. History-taking, establishing rapport, and developing specific goals of treatment remain relatively similar. A chief difference, however, is that an EMDR therapist will often attempt to understand current difficulties in light of troubling memories. For example, if a client reports that they are having trouble at work with a demanding, demeaning boss, an EMDR therapist might ask very specific questions regarding that client’s reaction to that boss: What is the chief emotional response (fear, anger, shame, etc)? What is the chief cognitive response (I am incompetent; I will never succeed, etc.)? In most cases, a good history will reveal previous similar experiences. A trained EMDR therapist will then integrate these experiences into a treatment plan that will address the intensity of those past memories and present difficulties.

Research tells us that the more intense and painful a memory is, the more likely it will be stored in the brain differently than regular memories; in a more isolated fashion, cut off from the natural problem-solving resources of the rest of the brain. On the short run, this often results in immediate relief. Unfortunately, in the long run this method of storing intense, “unprocessed” feelings can lead to a host of emotional problems and overreactions. The mechanism that brings these isolated memories back into contact with the natural resources of the brain is bilateral stimulation. Some have suggested that the same mechanism may be at work when we have rapid eye movements (REM) while we dream during sleep. Bilateral stimulation of the brain can take on a number of forms, including eye movement, alternating sounds, or tapping.

An EMDR therapist will organize the sessions based on presenting complaints, treatment goals, and a thorough history. This is followed by sets of bilateral stimulation. EMDR then, is a method of connecting old, distressing memories with more positive adult coping skills, resulting in symptom relief. A more complete description of the eight stages of treatment can be found athttp://www.emdrnetwork.org/description.html. EMDR has been found effective for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder and is approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Department of Defense, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. You can also visit the EMDRIA website at: http://www.emdria.org/ for more information.