Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Francine Shapiro to resolve symptoms resulting from everyday life; and from exposure to traumatic or distressing events from the past or present. EMDR therapy addresses past experiences (usually negative) that have set the groundwork for many kinds of problems and symptoms. After these are addressed,  EMDR helps you identify how these experiences affect current situations, which trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations. Finally, EMDR supports you in applying information to enhance healthier adaptive behaviors when triggers occur in the future.

“One of the procedural elements of EMDR is ‘dual stimulation’ using eye movements, sound tones or hand taps. During the reprocessing phases of EMDR therapy, the client attends momentarily to past memories, present triggers, or anticipated future experiences, while simultaneously focusing on a set of external stimuli. During that time, clients generally experience the emergence of insight, changes in memories, or new associations,” as explained in the book “EMDR” by Francine Schapiro.

I often use EMDR to treat the following:

  • Anxiety disorders (panic attacks, phobias and stress)
  • Car accidents
  • Experiences that may cause lingering stress, fear or anxiety
  • Exposure to childhood traumas and abuse(e.g. sexual, verbal, physical, mental) violence
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Rape
  • Traumatic loss,
  • War experiences

Many other symptoms can also be treated or managed with EMDR.

Traumatic memories are stored in such a way that they can quickly be triggered to affect a person in the present. Some people believe trauma gets stuck in our short-term memory. This is why old trauma gets activated along with present-day experiences that have become associated with the old trauma. (For example: a person who was traumatically affected by the Viet Nam war, now safe in his home for some 40 years, hears the backfiring of a truck and feels intense anxiety and flashbacks from his Viet Nam experience. The old trauma is reactivated in the present, because it has remained active and accessible in his short-term memory. This same pattern can be triggered by many kinds of experiences, including past abuse or assault, or being in an accident.)

The goal of treatment is to move these traumatic memories into long-term memory and then these difficult memories become something that happened in the past without a constant emotional or memory bridge that keeps them active in the present. So our veteran, for example, just hears a truck backfire and no longer flips back to the middle of battle noises, he has little or no reactivity and moves about on his day.