Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new clinical treatment that has been scientifically evaluated primarily with trauma survivors.
EMDR’s originator, Dr. Francine Shapiro, describes the procedure in detail in a recent book, and advises that therapists use EMDR only after completing an authorized advanced training in EMDR.
When considering the possibility that EMDR may be helpful for you or someone you know, an important first step is to speak with therapist(s) who have had advanced EMDR training and are experienced in selecting clients and successfully conducting EMDR.
EMDR is widely used by psychotherapists with adult trauma survivors, including war veterans, abuse and rape survivors, and accident and disaster survivors. EMDR also is used with traumatized children and with adults suffering from severe anxiety or depression.
Briefly, in EMDR a qualified therapist guides the client in vividly but safely recalling distressing past experiences (“desensitization”) and gaining new understanding (“reprocessing”) of the events, the bodily and emotional feelings, and the thoughts and self-images associated with them. The “eye movement” aspect of EMDR involves the client moving his or her eyes in a back-and-forth (“saccadic”) manner while recalling the event(s).
EMDR has shown evidence of therapeutic effectiveness in several recent scientific studies. After receiving between one and 12 sessions of EMDR, many (but not all) adolescents and adult clients have reported a variety of benefits.
EMDR recipients in these studies have included adult and adolescent child and domestic abuse survivors, combat veterans, rape and violent assault survivors, victims of life-threatening accidents and disasters, and individuals with severe panic attacks or depression.
Some of these individuals were seeking help from the Veterans Administration, from their HMO medical plan, or from mental health specialists at clinics or counseling centers, while others were not actively seeking healthcare or mental health treatment, but agreed to participate in a research study in order to receive treatment. The benefits reported following EMDR include:
- Feeling less troubled by trauma memories and reminders while awake and in their dreams (PTSD intrusive re-experiencing symptoms)
- Feeling able to cope with trauma memories and reminders without simply trying to avoid troubling thoughts, conversations, people, activities or places (PTSD avoidance symptoms)
- Feeling more able to enjoy pleasurable activities and to be emotionally involved in relationships, as well as feeling that there is a future to look forward to (PTSD numbing and detachment symptoms)
- Feeling less tense, stressed, irritable or angry, easily startled, and on-guard, and more able to sleep restfully, concentrate on activities, and deal with pressure and conflict (PTSD hyperarousal/hypervigilance symptoms)
- Feeling less anxious, worried, fearful or phobic, and prone to panic attacks
- Feeling less depressed (down and blue, hopeless, worthless, emotionally drained or suicidal)
- Feeling an increased sense of self-esteem and self-confidence
A few studies have checked to see how participants were doing several months or more than a year after completing EMDR, generally finding that the benefits persisted over these time periods.