What is Eye-Movement Desensitization Reintegration (EMDR)?
EMDR is an integrated form of psychotherapy that was originally conceived by Francine Shapiro in 1989 (i.e., see references below). This therapy has since that time been widely researched and proven as an effective treatment for psychological trauma. In addition, it has also helped people with various other forms of psychological distress.
EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) Model (1995). According to this model, every person has an innate tendency to move towards health and an inner capacity to achieve this growth. But this tendency can become blocked, often by the experience of psychologically traumatic or emotionally disturbing events, which then later may be associated with the individual experiencing some form of psychological stress or disturbing emotions. When this movement toward health is not blocked by physical illness or organic causes, it is likely that it is blocked by the way that previous traumatic or disturbing experiences have been stored in memory. In other words, sometimes these kinds of experiences are stored in a way which doesn't allow them to connect with other adaptive information. Therefore the individual can get "stuck" with cognitive or perceptual distortions, troubling images, disturbing feelings or even body sensations. When the previous disturbing experiences are triggered in another way during the present time, the unprocessed material can be seen as maladaptive responses to what might be an ordinary event or something one might consider an overreaction to a normal experience. In other words, it can be difficult to cope well or in an adaptive manner with the memory or presence of unresolved disturbing life experiences. EMDR Therapy opens pathways to more adaptive processing of experiences. Once the disturbing or traumatic experiences are adequately processed, the individual is able to find more adaptive meaning and respond more effectively to reminders of the past, present experiences, and perspectives on the future.
When performing EMDR, the therapist uses a set of procedures to reduce emotionally disturbing response(s) to disturbing memories and also to help the individual find a new more adaptive meaning to their disturbing experiences. Focus is given to the past, but eventually also to the present and the future. In addition, the therapist helps the client to develop skills and attitudes needed for present and future adaptive responses. In EMDR, eye-movements are often used in order to help processing to occur. This seems to be similar to what occurs naturally in dream sleep or during rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep, when eye-movements help to process unconscious material. After treatment with EMDR, clients often report an effective decrease or improvement in symptoms pertaining to post-traumatic distress disorder and/or other psychological problems.
Although EMDR has been shown to be an effective treatment for many different types of disorders, the therapist must always seek to understand the nature of the problem and decide whether EMDR is the appropriate form of treatment for each individual with consideration for their current issues and available resources. You can read more about EMDR at http://emdria.org, then the EMDRIA website, click on "Resources" and "What is EMDR Therapy?" Please contact Dr. Suerken if you have questions or would like a consultation!
Shapiro, F. (1989a). Efficacy of eye movement desensitization procedure in the treatment of traumatic memories. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2, 199-223.
Shapiro, F. (1989b). Eye movement desentization: A new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 20, 211-217.
Shapiro, F. (1995). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures. New York: Guilford Press.