What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) began in 1987 as a chance observation by psychologist Francine Shapiro. Dr. Shapiro noticed that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing emotions under certain conditions. She went on to study this phenomenon scientifically, and in 1989, reported her first findings in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
EMDR is centered around the belief that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it ordinarily does—that is, the ability to think things through, make reasoned judgements, and decide proper action. Often distressing feelings involve memories of past events. Sometimes just bringing up a memory can evoke strong feelings as if it were still happening. In that moment the brain can’t properly discern past from present moment experience. This maladaptive brain processing can intensify negative feelings, prolong problems and make you feel stuck in one place. Much of what brings a person into therapy—feeling stuck, symptoms of anxiety and depression, for instance, is rooted in this form of maladaptive brain processing.
EMDR therapy starts with the symptoms you experience in the here and now, and considers them through the lens of how your brain processes thoughts, feelings, and actions when in distress. The therapy uses eye movement as well as other forms of side-to-side stimulation such as tapping, watching lights or listening to sounds. These are all forms of bi-lateral stimulation (BLS).
It is not known how, but under therapeutic conditions, BLS promotes adaptive information processing within the brain. Engaging in adaptive information processing helps to desensitize the memory or situation, leading to a less distressed emotional state. Having been desensitized, the brain can then reprocess the memory, and the person can see the disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. That is how eye movement desensitization and reprocessing works.
EMDR has grown into a front-line technique for treating trauma and traumatic memories. It has gained significant research support, and is one of just a few techniques approved by the government for treating veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. More recently, EMDR has evolved from a specialized technique into a therapy in its own right, thanks to the contributions of therapists and researchers from all over the world. It is effective in treating numerous anxiety disorders, personality disorders, depression and addiction. In the world of sport and performance psychology, it is also used to promote peak performance.
I am devoted to EMDR treatment, and it is the primary modality I work within. I find it to be more powerful and complete than any therapeutic approach I’ve ever used. I’ve achieved Certification skill level and have trained with some of the leading practitioners in the country. Most recently I’ve been trained in a somatic-focused model of EMDR that incorporates the whole-body experience of emotion rather than just the thinking experience. It’s very exciting, cutting-edge work, and I welcome a discussion to see if it’s a right fit for you.