Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed to resolve symptoms resulting from trauma and other emotional conditions. EMDR therapy uses bilateral, neurological stimulation along with a structured spoken therapy designed specifically for this technique. Eye movement is one type of bilateral stimulation used in this therapy. Also used is left-right auditory stimulation (sounds/tones) and/or left-right tactile stimulation ("tappers" held in each hand).
When a person is confronted with a threatening or violent situation, they experience an adrenaline rush. This rush causes a heightened state of awareness of the person's senses. Sights, sounds, smells, and feelings accompanying the experience are stored in the brain with tremendous detail and the moment is "frozen in time". Subsequently, the brain seems to be unable to process the experience as it would normally. The negative thoughts and feelings of the traumatic event are "trapped" in the nervous system and remembering the trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven't changed.
The studies to date show a high degree of effectiveness with the following conditions:
- Post Traumatic Stress
- Childhood Trauma/Abuse
- Physical Abuse
- Psychological Abuse
- Rape/Sexual Abuse
- Childhood Abuse
- Victims of Crimes
- Witness to Violence
- Eating Disorders
- Dissociative Disorders
- Loss Of or Injury to a Loved One
- Accident Survivor (Car, Work, Other)
- Care Givers Stress
- Depression From Trauma
- Anxiety/Panic Attacks
- Phobias/Overwhelming Fears
- Performance and Test Anxiety
One or more "traditional" sessions are required for me to understand the nature of the problem and decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment option. Once we have agreed that EMDR is appropriate, the therapy begins. A typical session lasts approximately 80-90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.
During EMDR, I work with you to identify a specific problem as the focus of the session. You call to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., and what thoughts and beliefs you currently hold about that event. I guide bilateral stimulation (either eye movement, sounds, or tactile) while you focus on the disturbing material and notice whatever comes to mind and what changes occur in the mind and body without controlling the experience in any way. I consider this information and then instruct you to focus on a new modified image and once again perform a set of bilateral stimulations. Sets of stimulations are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs. The resulting change is permanent.
EMDR is the only medically proven and empirically verified technique to permanently heal the symptoms and distress associated with traumatic memories, disturbing life experiences, and neglect. Brain scans have clearly demonstrated pre-post changes after EMDR therapy, including increases in hippocampal volume, which have implications for memory storage.
There are over 30 published randomized studies investigating the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the majority of the patients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety, sleep problems, and more. Changes that typically took months or years with other forms of therapy occurred within weeks.
The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense placed EMDR in the "A" category as "strongly recommended" for the treatment of trauma in its VA/DoD Clinical Guideline for the Management of Post-Traumatic Stress. EMDR is also found effective by the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies including France, Italy, and the Netherlands. A study financed by Kaiser Permanente revealed that EMDR was twice as effective in half the amount of time compared to the standard traditional care.
Researchers at the University of Siena School of Medicine, Siena, Italy have documented changes in the brain as a result of using MRI and PetScan technology. The Amen Clinics in the US has also demonstrated similar results. Few other therapies have been so thoroughly researched and none other have shown such significant long-term results.
Click here for a compilation of EMDR studies
I have treated over 400 patients with EMDR and am continually impressed and amazed with the results and the wide range of people that can be helped using it.
Only practicing, licensed psychotherapists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counselors may receive EMDR training. These are the only mental health professionals qualified to use EMDR therapy with patients. A clinical background is necessary for proper application of the EMDR technique. This is a highly specialized method that requires supervised training for therapeutic effectiveness and client safety.
For further information on EMDR:
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