By Paulette Sears

Brief History of EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. EMDR is a technique for processing an individual’s traumatic or disturbing memories. The technique was discovered accidentally in 1987 by a psychologist who developed a way to eliminate her own disturbing emotions. The process by which this occurred is known as bilateral stimulation.

Since that time, and through much work with many individuals suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences, it has been demonstrated that bilateral stimulation of the left and right hemispheres of the brain is a very effective means to decrease and often eliminate the negative effects of traumatic experiences.

What the EDMR Technique Looks Like

The primary technique of bilateral stimulation in EMDR includes having the individual watch the clinician’s finger movements from left to right, while simultaneously recalling the disturbing memory and its associated negative thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Other forms of bilateral stimulation, including auditory and tactile stimulation, are also effective.

How it Works.

Research has not yet been able to identify how EMDR actually works, but it appears to be similar to what may happen in REM (rapid eye movement) or dream sleep. During REM or dream sleep it appears that people process the previous day’s memories, essentially putting them in the appropriate “storage files” in the brain.

Traumatic or disturbing memories do not get processed the way that our everyday ordinary experiences do. Disturbing memories seem to remain unprocessed in the brain, retaining the original picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings. EMDR or bilateral stimulation appears to help process the unconscious material that has gotten locked in the brain.

Through bilateral stimulation the unprocessed memories can be processed and resolved, often in a very efficient manner. The processing of the memory results in a desensitization of the emotions surrounding the memory. The memory is not forgotten or erased, but it no longer holds the power it once did over the individual. The processing of the memory results in new insights, and improves one’s emotional, physical, and behavioral responses.

How Long Does it Take?

The time that it takes to resolve a disturbing memory generally has to do with whether it was a single traumatic incident, which can usually be processed fairly quickly, or if it is one of many incidents of traumatic experiences, in which case it will generally require more time to process.

Strengths of EMDR Technique

EMDR is an empowering process for the individual, who is always in control of the process. It is his or her own brain that does the healing. Additionally, it is not necessary for the individual to verbally recount the memory. Depending on the needs of the client, EMDR processing can occur with little or no detailed verbal recounting of the memory. Another powerful aspect of EMDR is that it is an efficient process. Processing of the identified memories occurs fairly rapidly, particularly for single event traumas.

EMDR for Trauma and Beyond…

Initially EMDR was used with individuals with severe traumatic experiences, such as war veterans or sexual assault victims. However, over time it has been found that EMDR can be utilized successfully in many other ways. EMDR has shown to be effective in processing any disturbing memory, whether specifically identified as traumatic or not. Such childhood experiences as being teased in the schoolyard or shamed by an adult can have significant lingering effects on one’s self-identity into adulthood; these can be effectively processed with EMDR. Additionally, EMDR has been shown to be effective in addressing anxieties, phobias, and depression, as well as enhancing performance on the job and improving athletic performance.

For further in depth information on EMDR, visit the EMDR Institute, Inc.

Is EMDR Right for You?

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have regarding EMDR or to discuss if it could be helpful for you. I would be happy to speak about how I utilize EMDR with clients, both children and adults. I have completed comprehensive training in EMDR and have had success in using it in my work with individuals to address a variety of issues including grief, childhood sexual abuse, perfectionism, negative self-beliefs, and performance enhancement.