Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful therapeutic method developed in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro, a psychologist.  Other therapists have developed and extended the method over the past twenty-five years. 

EMDR has empirical validity as a treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  EMDR-trained therapists believe it offers a more complete resolution of trauma symptoms often in less time than other approaches.  Anecdotal evidence has shown it to be useful in treating aspects of a range of conditions including: depression, anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, and complicated grief.  It has also been used for performance enhancement in sports and other areas.  . 

How does it work?  It is not known exactly how EMDR works.  What seems to happen is that it stimulates the brain to process and store information about a negative event differently than befoire treatment.  Traumatic memories can become frozen in time.  The visual images, thoughts, feelings, smells, and sounds associated with a trauma may all be recalled when a memory is accessed. 

The theoretical explanation offered by Dr. Shapiro is that EMDR stimulates Adaptive Information Processing.  EMDR seems to stimulate the brain to resolve the emotional and cognitive material quickly and thoroughly.  EMDR works to separate the negative beliefs about the self, the negative emotions, and the bodily sensations that come when one accesses the visual and auditory memories of the negative event. 

People who have been sexually assaulted may feel guilty about the assault.  An unresolved experience of abuse can produce flashbacks and intrusive thoughts of the experience.  EMDR very quickly helps a client to be able to think about the negative experience without recreating the negative emotion or recreating the guilt and shame that may have been associated with it.  Clients are able to talk about the event as clearly having happened in the past.  It will no longer recreate the negative emotion and thoughts that it once did. 

What is an EMDR session like? Typically, an EMDR therapist will ask a client to describe the picture that represents the event to be reprocessed.  Then, the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that accompany the memory will be obtained.  Finally, the therapist will ask the client to focus on the target memory while following the therapist’s fingers back and forth.  What happens next depends upon the unique manner that the information is stored in the client’s brain. 

How long does it take? Each EMDR session is about 1 to 1.5 hours.  Some issues may be resolved in a single session.  More typically, six to ten sessions may be needed to obtain a complete resolution of symptoms.  Treatment plans are individualized and no treatment can occur without the client’s consent and active participation.   

Who can use EMDR? Training in the use of EMDR is restricted to therapists such as psychologists who are licensed to practice independently.  Level 1 and Level 2 courses are offered by the EMDR Institute.  Specialty training is offered to advanced practitioners.  EMDR is more fully described in Dr. Shapiro’s (2001) book: “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, 2nd Edition.” 

Information for Clients. Dr. Shapiro and Ms. Forrest wrote a book called “EMDR: The breakthrough therapy.”  It contains many case examples of clients who have been treated with EMDR.  Much information is available on the internet although care must be taken to evaluate the quality of the information, including positive as well as negative reviews. The EMDR Association of Canada and the EMDR International Association have information for clients.

Live in Victoria? If you live in the Victoria area and need a skilled EMDR therapist, I invite you to call Dr. Krystyna Kinowski at 250 380 0361. Click on her name to see her website for information about Best Foot Forward - her positive application of the EMDR approach.

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