EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization
By Susan Lee Bady, LCSW, BCD
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a powerful new technique
in psychotherapy. It was discovered by chance in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro, who
found that moving her eyes while thinking of painful memories allowed the emotional
distress to diminish.
As she began experimenting with these phenomena others joined her in finding ways
to incorporate them into the psychotherapy process. Originally they named it EMDR
because they felt that eye movements caused desensitization to and reprocessing of
painful memories. Later they realized that moving the eyes causes bi-lateral
stimulation and that they could achieve the same impact of reduced emotional
distress by other methods of bi-lateral stimulation - i.e. alternately tapping one's
hands or feet or listening to sounds in each ear. They kept the name EMDR since the
public had become accustomed to it.
Over time clinicians and researchers found that EMDR helps resolve a wide variety of
problems - trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, sexual
problems, eating disorders, performance enhancement, relationship difficulties and
just about any issue that brings a person to psychotherapy.
At this moment no one knows why EMDR works. Perhaps the bi-lateral stimulation
creates neurological changes that lead to psychological change. Perhaps the
concentration that occurs during EMDR induces a trance state, like hypnosis, which
also speeds up the healing process. We only know that it works.
It is important to note that although EMDR is a powerful technique, it is always
secondary to the therapist's ability to understand and relate to the client as he/she
goes through the therapy process. Therefore an EMDR practitioner should always be
well trained as a therapist, as well as in EMDR.
EMDR can be a short-term treatment to help with a specific problem or it can be part
of a long-term therapy. The therapist may use cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic,
gestalt or other methods of psychotherapy. He/she may also combine EMDR with
hypnosis or other therapeutic methods. Whatever techniques are used, the therapist
takes time to get to know the patient, targets problem areas to work on and helps
the patient establish a sense of safety and comfort. Bi-lateral stimulation may occur
in a variety of ways as mentioned earlier. The patient may follow the movement of
the therapist's finger back and forth, alternately tap hands or feet, or listen to a tape
that produces sound in each ear.
Whatever methods are used the bi-lateral stimulation produces a variety of different
results, according to the person and the problem. Anxiety tends to diminish and the
person feels more relaxed. New insights and emotions come forth and negative
beliefs start to change. The person starts to view himself/herself more positively. As
a result, patients find they are better able to understand their difficulties and to
change them and thus live a more powerful and enjoyable life.
New York City Voices