What is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)?
EMDR is a highly effective therapy for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. “Trauma” is a term we use to describe what happens to us when we go through a very stressful event. Traumatic events can be what we call “Big T” events like childhood abuse, rape, robbery, earthquake, or similar situations. PTSD can also result from the cumulative effects of “little t” events, such as being shamed as a child, too many moves or losses, or anything else that causes a great deal of stress to us.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This long phrase describes a technique first developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1989. It refers to a method of using “bilateral stimulation” of the brain, either through the client moving their eyes back and forth, listening to tones that alternate from side to side, or lightly tapping the client’s hands left and right. If you think about it, we use bilateral stimulation all the time; for instance, we go for a walk to think through a problem, we enjoy music more when it’s played in stereo, we often tap our feet or our hands in time with music or when we’re nervous. And, while we’re asleep, our eyes move back and forth while we’re dreaming (Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, stage sleep). Our brains process more information, and process it differently, when both sides are used at once.
How does EMDR work?
EMDR therapy is an integrative psychotherapy method that uses a technique called bilateral stimulation to repeatedly activate opposite sides of the brain. Therapists often use eye movements to facilitate bilateral stimulation. These eye movements mimic the period of sleep referred to as rapid eye movement or REM sleep, and this portion of sleep is frequently considered to be the time when the mind processes the recent events in the person’s life.
EMDR seems to help the brain reprocess the trapped memories in such a way that normal information processing is resumed. Therapists often use EMDR to help clients uncover and process beliefs that developed as the result of relational traumas, or childhood abuse and/or neglect. For a more detailed explanation please visit the EMDR Institute, Inc.