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What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) is a new psychotherapy used to treat troubling symptoms, such anxiety, guilt, anger, depression, panic, sleep disturbance, and flashbacks that are a result of traumatic experiences. Traditional therapies have met with limited success in treating victims of trauma. Not only has EMDR been proven effective in reducing the chronic symptoms which follow trauma, the therapy benefits appears to be permanent.

A Breakdown of E.M.D.R.

  • Eye Movement – much has been learned about this therapy since the day it was named for eye movements. Now it appears that the beneficial effects are facilitated by an alternating stimulation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Eye movements accomplish this, as do bilateral alternating taps and tones.
  • Desensitization - refers to the removal of the emotional disturbance associated with a traumatic memory.
  • Reprocessing – refers to the replacement of the unhealthy, negative beliefs associated with traumatic memories, with more healthy, positive beliefs.

How long does EMDR therapy take?

This depends on several factors including the nature of the problem being treated, the client’s history, and the client’s ability to tolerate high levels of disturbance. In some cases, one EMDR treatment session is enough. Usually it takes weeks to months of treatment. When EMDR therapy is used appropriately it can significantly shorten the overall length of time in therapy.

How does EMDR work?

Research to answer this question is now in progress at The Human Resource Institute’s Trauma Center in Brookline, MA. Researchers there are using SPECT brain-scan imaging to map the changes that occur after EMDR treatments. It is known that the brain has a natural mechanism for processing disturbing events, however, when a traumatic experience is overwhelming the brain may not be able to process it in the usual way. That is why severely traumatized people often find themselves stuck in disturbing memories long after the traumatic event. Research suggests that an important part of the natural trauma processing happens during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which provides alternating stimulation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This may explain why EMDR therapy seems to jump start the brain’s natural healing ability, allowing the traumatic memory to become less and less disturbing.

In December 1995, a study by Wilson, Becker, and Tinker was published in the prestigious Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The study showed that 80 subjects diagnosed with PTSD showed significant improvement after EMDR therapy. At a 15 month follow up, treatment benefits were unchanged.