EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR: Eye Movement
Desensitization and Reprocessing

– Citation: WebMD



Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a fairly new, nontraditional type of psychotherapy. It’s growing in popularity, particularly for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although most research into E.M.D.R. has examined its use in people with PTSD, EMDR is sometimes used experimentally to treat many other psychological problems.

They include:

At first glance, E.M.D.R. appears to approach psychological issues in an unusual way. It does not rely on talk therapy or medications. Instead, eye movement therapy uses a patient’s own rapid, rhythmic eye movements. These eye movements dampen the power of emotionally charged memories of past traumatic events.

What Can You Expect From EMDR?

An EMDR treatment session can last up to 90 minutes. Your therapist will move his or her fingers back and forth in front of your face and ask you to follow these hand motions with your eyes. At the same time, the EMDR therapist will have you recall a disturbing event. This will include the emotions and body sensations that go along with it.

Gradually, the therapist will guide you to shift your thoughts to more pleasant ones. Some therapists use alternatives to finger movements, such as a hand or toe-tapping or musical tones.

People who use the technique argue that it can weaken the effect of negative emotions.

Before and after each EMDR treatment, your therapist will ask you to rate your level of distress. The hope is that your disturbing memories will become less disabling.

How Effective Is EMDR?

More than 20,000 practitioners have been trained to use Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing since psychologist Francine Shapiro developed the technique in 1989. While walking through the woods one day, Shapiro happened to notice that her own negative emotions lessened as her eyes darted from side to side. Then, she found the same positive effect in patients.

EMDR appears to be a safe therapy, with no negative side effects. Still, despite its increasing use, mental health practitioners debate it’s effectiveness. Critics note that most eye movement studies have involved only small numbers of participants. Other researchers, though, have shown the treatment’s effectiveness in published reports that consolidated data from several studies.

What Do the Guidelines Recommend?

Guidelines issued by more than one professional organization have recently boosted the credibility of EMDR. These guidelines define who may benefit from the treatment.

For example:

  • The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has noted that this method is effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic PTSD. According to the APA, EMDR may be particularly useful for people who have trouble talking about the traumatic events they’ve
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have jointly issued
    clinical practice guidelines. These guidelines strongly recommended EMDR for the
    treatment of PTSD in both military and non-military populations.

How Does EMDR Work?

By inducing the recall of distressing events and diverting attention from their emotional consequences, this treatment in some respects borrows basic principles used in prolonged exposure therapy, the gold standard behavioral psychotherapeutic treatment of PTSD.