Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychological methodology that enables people to quickly process and heal from the paralyzing symptoms, emotional distress and disconnection that are the result of traumatic incidents (both large and small). Repeated studies show that by using EMDR in a few as three sessions trauma survivors can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.
Its speed makes EMDR particularly attractive to many clients and therapists. Originated in 1987 and constantly refined since, the methodology radically changes preconceived notions about trauma and the psyche. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR-centered therapy is proving that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR-centered therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain's information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or unbalanced by the impact of a trauma, the emotional wound festers and causes intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.
What happens in an EMDR session?
EMDR is a complex eight-phase treatment. Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. After the clinician has determined which traumatic memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes (or other form of bilateral stimulation) to track the therapist's hand as it moves back and forth across the client's field of vision. For reasons believed by some Harvard researchers to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, as this happens, clients begin to process traumatic memory and disturbing feelings. Once the bilateral stimulation set this innate self-healing mechanism into motion, the client begins spontaneously associating other memories, thoughts and feelings with the originally targeted trauma. The result is a chain of associations, each of which the clinician may select as a target for more eye movements. By the time the various chains of association come to an end, the trauma has lost its negative charge and no longer maintains its destructive hold on the client. It becomes simply another event in the history of his life.
In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events are transformed on an emotional level. For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that I survived it and I am strong. Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client's own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes. The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR treatment feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. Events take on new meaning in clients' lives. As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients' thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of a emotional health and resolution.