What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) was developed in 1989 by American psychologist Francine Shapiro to treat the psychological consequences of trauma (especially post-traumatic stress disorder). Treatment is grounded in the principle that a traumatic event can overwhelm healthy coping mechanisms, so that an event and its memory are never effectively processed. As a result, the trauma continues to exert harmful psychological and physiological effects long after the event is over.
EMDR is used in individual treatment to help clients reframe traumatic events so that those events no longer exert the same harmful power over the client’s psychological health. To that end, specific physical stimuli are used to help the client reprocess and “work through” the trauma.
How is EMDR used?
EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that incorporates several approaches, including cognitive, psychodynamic, experiential and interpersonal therapies, but its hallmark is the practice of bilateral stimulation.
Treatment is divided into eight stages, during which the client is generally asked to focus on certain disturbing memories, images or emotions. The therapist then directs the client to perform certain eye movements or to focus on certain sounds or touches. As those stimuli call forth new associations, those associations can be used to help the client to process traumatic experiences in more effective ways, often by reframing distressing emotions in a more positive manner.
The eight stages of treatment begin with assessment and the formulation of a treatment plan, and proceed through the identification of both a safe memory or image and an image that represents the trauma in question. Treatment proceeds through work designed to desensitize the Client and install a positive representation in place of the negative traumatic image. Further stages include consideration of the physical sensations elicited in the sessions and ongoing reevaluation as treatment proceeds.
The length of treatment depends on the nature of the traumatic event. A single event may be treated in as few as three sessions. Effective treatment of more pervasive trauma involving multiple events may require a much longer course of treatment.
Is EMDR effective?
Agreement on a theoretical basis for EMDR is not universal. Shapiro argued strongly for an important physiological component of neurologic adaptation that responded to the physical components of the treatment, while others have downplayed that physical element.
Even if its theoretical underpinnings are not well understood, there is substantial empirical support for the effectiveness of EMDR for clients who have experienced trauma. It has been used effectively in children and adults for the treatment of disorders that arise from traumatic experiences, whether those experiences are single incidents or long-lasting emotional and psychological injuries. There is also clinical support for its value in treating depression and for its use in enhancing creativity and performance in people who are not seeking treatment for the consequences of a traumatic event.
The efficacy of EMDR has been confirmed in a number of clinical studies, including meta-analyses published in both The American Journal of Psychiatry and The British Journal of Psychiatry, and the treatment has been incorporated into several international guidelines for post-trauma treatment.
EMDR at PCH Treatment Center
At PCH Treatment Center, we use EMDR as a therapy that has proven effective for clients who have lived through traumatic events and who continue to suffer their consequences. It is part of the holistic treatment approach that we bring to all our clients, an approach that enables us to draw on a wide range of therapeutic options and to tailor treatment choices to individual needs.