What is EMDR?
EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has become the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD and many other presenting concerns. Simply put, when we have a disturbing experience, it gets stored in the brain in a way that our human system feels that event is either going to happen again at any moment (symptoms associated with memories), or that it is happening right now (body is ready to react at any moment). When our systems are triggered by something that reminds us of that disturbing experience, the brain reacts as if the original disturbing event is, indeed, happening. EMDR focuses less on the traumatic event itself and more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms that result from the experience.
EMDR helps to move the storage of disturbing memories to a more functional part of the brain (reprocessing) that can experience the event as actually being in the past (desensitization). EMDR is an effective addition to traditional counseling and psychotherapy. In addition to treating trauma and PTSD symptoms, EMDR has been proven to help:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Sleep problems
- Chronic pain relief
- Performance anxiety
- Among other areas!
What Do Eye Movements Have To Do With It?
The mind can often heal itself naturally, much in the same way the body heals itself. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, when our brain is in its most regenerative state, and particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In a REM state, the eyes move back and forth in a bi-lateral capacity, which facilitates communication across the left and right brain hemispheres. This Dual Attention Stimulation (DAS) is guided by the therapist as the client maintains awareness of present experiences while simultaneously recalls memories and emotions around the disturbing experience. The result is that events that used to trigger the brain into over-reaction no longer have that effect. The person can now react to the present without the past interfering.
These websites are a great resource for additional information on EMDR:
EMDR International Association
EMDR Institute, Inc.
Barrowcliff, A. L., Gray, N. S., Freeman, T. C. A., & MacCulloch, M. J. (2004). Eye-movements reduce the vividness, emotional valence and electrodermal arousal associated with negative autobiographical memories. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, 325-345.
Van de Hout, M., Muris, P., Salemink, E., & Kindt, M. (2001). Autobiographical memories become less vivid and emotional after eye movements. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 121-130.