What is EMDR therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR therapy) is a powerful psychotherapy model.  It was developed in the US in 1989 by American psychologist, Francine Shapiro, and is now recognized by many regulatory bodies in the UK, Europe, South America and the Middle East including:

•    The World Health Organization (2013)
•    The American Psychiatric Association (2004 & 2009);
•    The US Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs (2004 & 2010), and
•    The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (2000 & 2008).

EMDR (www.emdria.org) is regulated by the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA), which oversees the training, certification and consultation of EMDR therapists throughout the world.  To date, EMDR therapy has helped an estimated half a million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress. Developed primarily to address the impact of trauma, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is also now being used effectively for many other problems as well as performance enhancement with clients such as actors, athletes and individuals in management.

How was EMDR therapy developed?

In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts under certain conditions. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically and, in 1989, she reported success using EMDR therapy to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Since then EMDR therapy has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, EMDR therapy is a set of protocols that incorporate elements from many different treatment approaches.

How does EMDR therapy work?

No one knows exactly how EMDR therapy works though it is proven that EMDR essentially mobilizes the brain’s own healing abilities. When a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and, remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, and smells, and feelings haven’t changed. It’s like reliving the past in the present. Such memories can have a lasting negative effect on the way a person sees the world and relates to other people that interferes with her or his life.

EMDR therapy seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain functions. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR therapy session, the images, sounds, and feelings no longer are relived when the event is brought to mind. What happened is still remembered (we can’t change history) but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR therapy appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR therapy can be thought of a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

How long does EMDR therapy take?

One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR therapy is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR therapy more fully and provide an opportunity to answer any questions about the method. Once the therapist and the client have agreed that EMDR therapy is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR therapy may begin.

A typical EMDR therapy session lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. The type of concern, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.

What kind of problems can EMDR therapy treat?

Scientific research has established EMDR therapy as effective for Posttraumatic stress. However, clinicians have reported success using EMDR therapy in treatment of the following conditions:

  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Performance Anxiety
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Addictions
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disturbing memories
  • Stress reduction
  • Complicated grief
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse