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Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing


Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR was developed by Dr Francine Shapiro in 1987, and is a type of psychotherapy.  But what exactly is EMDR and how may it help you?  Read on for more information.

What is EMDR and how does it Work?

No one is sure exactly how EMDR works.  What is known is that when a person experiences something that upsets them greatly, such as trauma or chronic pain, the brain is unable to process information like it normally does.  Thus, that trauma, pain or other experience remains with the person and the upsetting feelings or memories never seem to be resolved.  These can have a lasting negative effect, not only on a person’s outlook and interactions, but also with their ability to live life as they should.

EMDR appears to act directly on how the brain works.  The bilateral stimulation may stimulate the brain activity that is associated with information processing, like the processing that occurs during the period of REM sleep.  When EMDR treatment is successful, the brain processes information normally once again.

The EMDR Treatment Session

During EMDR treatment sessions, the therapist works with the client in order to identify the problem that is to be worked on during the session.  In the case of chronic pain, this could be the pain itself or the way that the pain has affected the client’s life.  The client focuses on the pain and the thoughts and feelings that are associated with it while the therapist performs series of eye movements. During this period, the client does not try to control anything; they just notice what comes to mind.

Each client just has to pay attention to their experience.  They do not have to do anything else.  Each client will process information in their own way, based on their values and their experiences.  The series of eye movements are continued until the sensations become less troubling and positive thoughts and beliefs start to happen.

How Many Sessions are required?

At least one session is required for the therapist to discuss the issues with the client and to see if EMDR treatment is appropriate.  If it is, the actual treatment will begin.  A typical session will last for 90 minutes.  The amount of sessions needed will depend on factors such as the actual problem, the person’s circumstances, and the amount of trauma they have suffered previously.  Success can occur with as few as three treatments but six to ten sessions are often required.  Sessions can occur weekly or fortnightly.  It can be used with a standard “talking” therapy or as its own therapy.

What are the Eye Movements?

The eye movements used in EMDR are carried out by the client – the client follows the therapist’s fingers as they move for 20 to 30 seconds or more, depending on the client’s requirements.  Eye movements are the most common external stimulus used in EMDR but auditory tones, tapping, or other tactile stimulation may also be used.  The key appears to be the alternating stimulation of the left and right side of the brain.

What Can EMDR Help?

It has been claimed that EMDR can specifically help with the following problems:

• Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Phobias
• Generalised anxiety
• Paranoid schizophrenia
• Learning disabilities
• Eating disorders
• Substance abuse
• Addictions
• Grief
• Stress
• Disturbing or painful memories
• Sexual issues

Considerations with EMDR

While EMDR may be a very useful therapy, it should be noted that it is not known exactly how the therapy works and the evidence for the efficacy of EMDR has not been proven beyond a doubt.  There are however, several studies as well as anecdotal evidence that suggest that EMDR can have positive effects.


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