EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a form of therapy developed by Doctor Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist. She began pursuing the idea that rapid eye movement diminishes stress levels when she observed this on herself, during a walk in the park. Two years later, after she conducted more research and a controlled study on the process, she published her first work on EMDR.
EMDR therapy’s main focus is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). There are however some doctors who use it to focus other problems. But its main target is trauma, EMDR already being considered a valid and efficient way to deal with it and its related symptoms.
How does it work?
Basically, EMDR works by recalling the traumatic experience and trying to implement a more comfortable perspective on it. This is facilitated by rapid eye movement, alternating hand taps or bilateral tactile sensations or any combination of these. Also known as dual stimulation, this technique focuses the patient on both the trauma he or she needs to deal with and the therapist’s moving finger (or sounds / sensations induced). Rapid eye movement is also the process that leads what we know as REM sleep – some specialists believe that the explanation for the process of EMDR will come from there.
Post traumatic stress disorder is a very serious condition that can drastically affect a person’s life. By recalling the traumatic event, the person relives all the details regarding the setting in which it took place and all the emotions that he or she experienced. The traumatic moment is somewhat frozen in the patient’s memory and can interfere with his or her activities when external or internal stimuli provoke the reliving of the moment.
While it is still unclear why EMDR manages to detach a person from the traumatic effect, it is known that rapid eye movements relieve the patient of some of the anxiety he or she feels when reliving it. By detaching the patient from the traumatic event, the therapist can then put it into a more manageable perspective.
EMDR works by taking the patient, under the strict supervision of a trained psychotherapist, through eight phases. The first step is recalling the general aspects of the traumatic event, without going through all the small details and avoiding it being relived by the patient. The second stage is when the therapist will take you through the process of EMDR, explaining how it works and what should you expect during the next steps. At the third phase, you will be asked to attribute a mental picture of the event, accompanied by more details than you have gone through in the first step (emotions and physical sensations). Also, you will be asked to draw out a negative and a positive belief about yourself in concordance with the event – the purpose of this exercise being to replace the negative one with the positive one.
The fourth phase is the actual starting of the EMDR process. You will be asked to recall the event in detail, while being subjected to rapid eye movement in order to relieve tension and anxiety. The therapist will ask you to focus on the negative aspect of the event and asses its impact on your emotional state – this is called desensitization. After a low emotional impact is reached, phase five (installation) will try to replace the negative aspect with the positive one you described in the 3rd phase. The sixth step is focused on relaxing your body when recalling the event, thus implementing the positive aspect even more. The seventh step is closure, in which everything is analyzed once more to make sure you are truly feeling better – this being the ultimate purpose of EMDR. Reevaluation is the last step, concluding the therapy.
While it is still a relatively new concept, EMDR has show great results in PTSD patients. It is recommended that people who have problems coping in stressful environments (patients with heart conditions or pregnant women) consult their doctors before undergoing EMDR therapy.