EMDR

EMDR2019-01-10T16:03:58+00:00

Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-Processing

EMDR therapy is a cost-effective, non-invasive, evidence-based method of psychotherapy that facilitates adaptive information processing. EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment which comprehensively identifies and addresses experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural resilience or coping capacity and have thereby generated traumatic symptoms and/or harmful coping strategies. Through EMDR therapy, patients are able to reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disruptive.

Initially, EMDR was utilized and studied as a therapy for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which was itself a relatively new diagnosis for an age-old human affliction. More than 20 controlled clinical trials of EMDR therapy have now been completed and reported, attesting to its value and demonstrating its usefulness across all ages, genders, and cultures for post-traumatic stress disorders. Tens of thousands of clinicians have been trained in EMDR therapy and have applied the defining protocols of this psychotherapy to many other conditions, including: Personality disorders, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, panic attacks, performance anxiety, complicated grief, stress reduction, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, addictions, phobias, pain disorders, sexual and/or physical abuse and body dysmorphic disorders.

During this procedure, patients tend to “process” the memory in a way that leads to a peaceful resolution. This often results in increased insight regarding both previously disturbing events and long held negative thoughts about the self. For example, an assault victim may come to realize that he was not to blame for what happened, that the event is really over, and, as a result he can regain a general sense of safety in his world.

Adaptive Information Processing

The Guiding Principle of EMDR Theory

The Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) Model has been constructed from observations of many people in states of psychological health and dysfunction. The model reveals that health is supported by positive and successful experiences that increasingly prepare a person to handle new challenges and that the brain is equipped to manage and process adversity.

Yet, there are negative life experiences that can elude a person’s natural processing abilities. Another way to look at this is to consider a splinter lodged in one’s hand. This foreign object can cause pain and infection. Once removed, the body naturally knows how to heal. Depending on the nature of the trauma, the strengths and developmental stages of the person impacted, and the support available at the time of the traumatic event, some experiences cannot be easily moved or recovered from. This can go on to drive psychological symptoms. Once processed or removed like the splinter, the natural process of healing from adversity can take place. The AIP model guides a clinician’s use of EMDR procedures so that the person’s own brain can complete the processing of difficult memories. This results in the reduction of suffering and symptoms and the development of new coping skills that can support psychological health. After successful treatment with EMDR, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal associated with stress is reduced.

How does EMDR work?

While research is actively taking place, the precise mechanism by which EMDR works to resolve traumatic stress is unclear, in part because we are just beginning to understand exactly how the brain processes intense memories and emotions. However, several neuropsychologists believe EMDR enables the person undergoing treatment to rapidly access traumatic memories and process them emotionally and cognitively, which facilitates their resolution.

“We believe that EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep — that allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.”

Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

By accessing these memories in the context of a safe environment, the hypothesis is that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and the development of cognitive insights about the memories.

“EMDR quickly opens new windows on reality, allowing people to see solutions within themselves that they never knew were there. And it’s a therapy where the client is very much in charge, which can be particularly meaningful when people are recovering from having their power taken away by abuse and violation.”

Laura S. Brown, Ph.D.

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