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Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy -EMDR


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) integrates elements of many effective psychotherapies in structured protocols that are designed to maximize treatment effects. These include psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies. EMDR is an information processing therapy and uses an eight phase approach.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a powerful new psychotherapy technique which has been very successful in helping people who suffer from trauma, anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post traumatic stress and many other emotional problems. Until recently, these conditions were difficult and time-consuming to treat. EMDR is considered a breakthrough therapy because of its simplicity and the fact that it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.

Eye movement and desensitization reprocessing

This treatment was developed for post-traumatic stress disorder. There are 3 components:

  1. exposure using imagined images of the traumatic events;
  2. a cognitive components in which patients attempts to replace negative thoughts associated with the images, with positive ones; and
  3. saccadic eye movements induced by asking the patient to follow rapid side to side movements of the therapist's finger.

EMDR is a relatively new therapy which has been found to help people recover from trauma. EMDR is unusual because with something as simple as eye movements or tapping and accompanying free-association, it can achieve in relatively few sessions what other therapies would take years to achieve, if at all. Not only has that, brain scans indicated that it stimulates positive change in the brain. Needless to say, this is causing quite a stir.

EMDR- Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing Theory

The theory behind EMDR is that stimulated rapid eye movement may help in the psychological processing of trauma. It is thought that the day's events and our reactions to them are processed during REM sleep. In a controlled EMDR session, moving light is used to induce rapid eye movement.

Because it is a new method of treatment, only a relatively small number of patients have been treated with EMDR for PTSD. However, the EMDR Institute reports that there are more controlled studies of EMDR and its effects than of any other trauma treatment. The EMDR Institute states that an estimated 1,000,000 people had been treated by 1995, with varying degrees of improvement. Some, but not all, studies document improvement after relatively few interventions.

Who discovered EMDR

It was invented by American Francine Shapiro in 1987. She observed the way she had been able to banish disturbing thoughts from her own mind. She developed and refined these observations and published a paper in 1989 describing beneficial results in a number of case studies. The therapy originally consisted of the patient being guided by the therapist in moving their eyes in a random way whilst thinking about their 'problem'. In the relatively short time of a few minutes the feelings may begin to shift and resolve themselves.

The speed of the therapy and lack of necessary skilled input from the practitioner has led to strong criticism of the approach from some in the psychotherapeutic and psychiatric establishment. The practice also lacks a convincing explanation as to how it works.

Nevertheless extensive studies have repeatedly shown it to be as good as any existing therapy at bringing about improvements in the subjects.

Later developments have removed the focus on the eyes and used a number of other bilateral stimuli such as sound and touch to bring about the effect. Its use has also been extended to include a wide range of conditions.

In recognition of the benefits of the technique Dr. Shapiro has been given an award for Distinguished Scientific Achievement in Psychology by the California Psychological Association and in 2002 the International Sigmund Freud Award for Psychotherapy presented by the City of Vienna in conjunction with the World Council for Psychotherapy.

How does EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing Therapy work?

When disturbing experiences happen, they are stored in the brain with all the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompany them. When a person is very upset, the brain seems to be unable to process the experience as it would normally. Therefore, the negative thoughts and feelings of the traumatic event get "trapped" in the nervous system. Since the brain cannot process these emotions, the experience and/or their accompanying feelings, are often suppressed from consciousness. However, the distress lives on in the nervous system where it causes disturbances in the normal emotional functioning of the person. The EMDR Technique does two very important things. First, it "unlocks" the negative memories and emotions stored in the nervous system, and second, it helps the brain successfully process the experience. The therapist works gently with the client, guiding him or her to revisit the traumatic incident. As images and feelings arise, the client's eye movements are "matched" with the remembered events and then re-directed into particular movements that cause the release of the memories. When the memory is brought to mind, the feelings are re-experienced in a new way. EMDR makes it possible to gain the self-knowledge and perspective that will enable the client to choose their actions, rather than feeling powerless over their re-actions. This process can be a complex if there are many experiences connected to the negative feelings. The EMDR therapy sessions continue until the traumatic memories and emotions are relieved.

What are the advantages of EMDR?

  • Help for PTSD, Post-traumatic stress disorder & Trauma Recovery
  • Help for Anxiety
  • Help for depression, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Help for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse
  • Help for Couples/Relationship/Marriage Counseling
  • Help for Sexual Problems - Sex Therapy


have seen a child voluntarily produce rapid eye movement, and am curious as to what effects, if any, such activity will have on the brain, memory, emotion, etc. -- (C Jones)

Sometimes crying or laughing
are the only options left,
and laughing feels better right now.

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