What is EMDR?
Updated: Sep 3, 2019
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a therapy developed in the late 1980’s by Dr. Francine Shapiro. She discovered that moving her eyes rapidly back and forth helped her diffuse the emotions tied to traumatic memories.
It’s believed that traumatic experiences which activate the Flight, Fight, or Freeze survival instinct are normally processed by the brain and then stored in the memory as past experiences. In some cases, particularly in cases of frightening, life-threatening experiences, the memories are stored without being completely processed and we continue to experience emotions and feelings from the event, even many years later. It has also been determined that for some of us, the mis-processed events don’t need to be life threatening in order to feel traumatic and for us to keep experiencing emotions and feelings after the event.
Therapists specializing in trauma work with issues such as:
Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
Chronic Illness and medical issues
Grief and loss
PTSD and other trauma and stress related issues
It is believed that EMDR Therapy serves a function similar to the REM sleep state; It allows us to process the traumatic experiences and remove the emotionality so that we no longer experience the after-effects in the present. The first step in this therapy is to teach the client mindfulness skills so that they can bring themselves back to the present. This means that delving into traumatic memories will be less frightening and will not feel like the original experience. Then the client is guided through a particular memory and allowed to follow the path of emotions and feeling, through recollections of various connected experiences. Processing is complete when particular memories are depleted of emotionality. Several sessions may be required to process a single memory.
Since the original discovery, EMDR has been extensively studied for use in treating clients who are experiencing the residual effects of traumatic experiences. It is different than other therapies in that it does not require clients to pour out all of their thoughts and secrets. Instead, the therapist and client focus on particular memories that are “charged.” Work with an EMDR therapist is generally shorter term than for traditional therapies.
I’ve been lucky enough to train in EMDR with Dr. Stephen Danziger of the Center for Creative Mindfulness. I recently completed my supervision and am now a trained EMDR therapist and offer this type of therapy as one of my services. Please contact me if you’re interested in finding out more.