WHAT IS EMDR?
The mind can often heal itself naturally in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilizing this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems.
EMDR is an approach to therapy that is particularly helpful for people who have experienced some sort of trauma, emotional wounds, blocks and limitations. These experiences can include the things that we normally think of as traumatic such as childhood abuse, earthquakes, sexual assaults and so on, and also the things that may be personally traumatizing like humiliations, major disappointments, betrayals, bereavement and such.
Memory and brain research shows us that painful or traumatic experiences are stored in a different part of the brain than pleasant or neutral ones. Normally, if we’re troubled by something, we think about it, talk about it, perhaps dream about it and eventually we are able to come to some sort of adaptive resolution (we find a way to come to integrate it in a healthy way).
Something happens that interrupts this process when we experience a trauma or very painful event. Instead, the traumatic material gets *stuck* in the brain and remains in its original form with the same thoughts, feelings, bodily sensation, smells and sounds. It is as though it is sealed off from the healthy functioning brain. That is why it is not uncommon for a person who has had years of traditional talk therapy to find that they still hurt and have not healed as much as they had hoped. This is because the traumatic stored material still has not been processed.
What researchers think is that EMDR in some way is able to *nudge* that material so that it neurologically reconnects with the healthy brain and then is reprocessed and integrated at an accelerated speed. The most popular theory is that when the eyes move back and forth it creates brain activity similar to that which occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It’s during this REM phase (when we dream) that we resolve conflicts, process information and consolidate learning and memory.
More simply put, information processing takes place. By creating similar brain activity while thinking about the painful event, it appears that EMDR is able to help the brain finally process the *stuck* material, enabling the person to arrive at an adaptive resolution. The painful event or trauma becomes an unfortunate memory but no longer produces the emotional pain that it did before.
To learn more about EMDR click here >
To watch an introductory video of EMDR click here >
For more in depth understanding of what EMDR looks like, step-by-step, below is my colleague Linzy Bonham's blog.
EMDR as an evidence-based psychotherapy and is approved by international health and government regulatory bodies throughout the world for its efficacy with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) including (among others):
· The World Health Organization (WHO) (2013)
· The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISSTS) (2000 & 2008)
· American Psychiatric Association (APA) (2004 & 2009)
· The US Dept of Defense/Veterans Affairs (2004)