Eye Movement Desensitization (EMDR) and Reprocessing is an intensive therapy approach used to deal with traumatic relationships and events. The approach is based on scientific research that shows when a person is anxious or in a state of heightened alert the brain cannot process the highly distressing experience. Essentially, the experience becomes “frozen in time” because the accompanying emotions are not felt and therefore do not get processed. As a result, recalling the memories constantly feels like reliving the event for the first time. The negative impact of the memories interferes with relating to people and keeping a balanced perspective on life.
The EMDR International Association describes the process in the following way:
“During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session. The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc. and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event. The therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain, while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content. Each person will process information uniquely, based on personal experiences and values. Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about oneself; for example, “I did the best I could.” During EMDR, the client may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session, most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.”
EMDR is a physiologically based psychotherapy which not only processes the emotions associated with trauma, but also images, sounds and smells. While the memory is not erased, it becomes far less upsetting to recall.
EMDR is used as an integrative part of psychotherapy or as the main treatment. It is highly effective in treating PTSD, anxiety, disturbing memories, performance anxiety, sexual and physical abuse and for stress reduction.