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EMDR

What Is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful new therapeutic process that has helped hundreds of thousands of people find relief from a wide range of emotional and personal problems.

How Did It Get Started?
In the late 1980's, a psychologist, named Francine Shapiro, made a serendipitous discovery: she found that disturbing thoughts, feelings, or flashbacks that often follow a traumatic event could be alleviated or eliminated by having victims move their eye rapidly while reflecting on the event. The procedure eliminated or lessened the negative associations of the event with the victim and had a calming, self-affirming effect. EMDR was soon formalized into new treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and used to treat rape victims and Vietnam vets.

How Has EMDR Evolved Since?
Since its beginnings, both the applications and process of EMDR have changed considerably. EMDR has evolved into a useful treatment for a range of emotional problems as well as PTSD. It has become a valuable component of relationship and sex therapy. It can also be used as an effective performance enhancer, with applications to sports, the performing arts and business.

Now, neither eye movements nor negative experiences are any longer a necessary part of the treatment. Clients may focus on a specific positive or negative event: past, current, anticipated or even imagined. Any residues of negativity are attenuated and feelings of competence, self-worth and well-being are enhanced. 

Treatment may still involve eye movements, but more likely, clients will receive bilateral stimulation auditorially through short tones heard through earphones or tactilely through mild taps, often delivered mechanically to opposite sides of the body. It is rapidly alternating bilateral stimulation, not eye movements specifically, which produces the therapeutic effect.

What Does EMDR Therapy Involve?
Several sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem, assess the suitability of EMDR, determine the specifics events (or images) to be targeted with EMDR, and orient the client to the process.

In an actual EMDR session, the client focuses on a selected event and the therapist helps the client center on him/herself witnessing the event. Next, bilateral stimulation with eye movements, or alternating taps or beeps, is begun. Periodically (every 10 seconds to 2 minutes), the therapist interrupts the bilateral stimulation to ask about the client's current state and further guide the process. EMDR of the selected image or events ends when, after repeated rounds of viewing the image, the client is able to do so with a positively enhanced sense of her/himself.

How Does EMDR Work?
We don't really know how EMDR works. We know that several components are key: 1) the client must focus on something significant, an event or an image; 2) the client must center on him/herself while focusing on the image; and 3) bilateral stimulation is essential. What clients experience during bilateral stimulation varies from client to client and from time to time. The outcome is that clients effectively reposition themselves with respect to the event and feel enhanced emotionally and cognitively.

What Kinds of Problems Does EMDR Help?
EMDR has been found helpful in the treatment of anxiety, performance anxiety, stress, phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, emotional residues of an abusive or neglectful childhood, anger, episodic rage, low self-esteem, depression, complicated grief, addictions, performance anxiety, and relationship problems.

How Has EMDR Been Used at Council for Relationships?
Staff members have been leaders in incorporating EMDR into relationship and sex therapy. We continue to use it extensively and to integrate current EMDR developments into our work. With EMDR, we have improved the quality of life for people suffering from nagging self-doubt, anxiety, and depression. We have helped clients free themselves of the emotional consequences of growing up in alcoholic, abusive, or neglectful families. We have helped many face potentially unsettling events like upcoming surgery, a legal proceeding, or a critical exam with confidence and self-assurance. Most central to our mission, we have helped distressed couples to de-escalate hostility and anger and to practice and reinforce healthier ways of relating.

Anyone interested in learning more about EMDR might enjoy reading the very readable EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma by F.Shapiro and M.S.Forrest.

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