EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a powerful and relatively new form of psychotherapy that was developed in the late 1980s by Francine Shapiro, PhD, an American psychologist. EMDR is challenging everything we believe and have assumed about therapy and the nature of change. Where once it was accepted that psychotherapy often took years, therapists and clients are finding that problems which were resistant to years of talk therapy are now being healed in a relatively short amount of time.
Licensed therapists throughout the world have been trained in EMDR. Many therapists have found that EMDR is helpful in treating not only PTSD, but also anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, work related and self-esteem issues. Furthermore, some therapists have found that EMDR can enhance the performance of athletes, performing artists and writers.
We know from memory and brain research that painful and traumatic experiences are stored in a different part of the brain than pleasant ones. Generally, when we are troubled by something, we think about it, talk about it, dream about it and eventually find a way to put it behind us. However, when we experience a painful or traumatic experience, something happens that interrupts this natural healing process. The traumatic material seems to get "stuck" in the brain and remains in its original form, with the same thoughts, feelings, body sensation, smells and sounds. It’s as though the painful or traumatic material is sealed off from our healthy, functioning brain. This "dysfunctionally stored material" has not been processed - the past is still present. That’s why it’s not uncommon for a person who has had years of talk therapy may feel like they haven’t changed as much as they had hoped.
Researchers believe that EMDR is in some way able to "nudge" the "dysfunctionally stored material" so that it neurologically reconnects with the healthy brain and then can be reprocessed and integrated. It is believed that when bilateral stimulation occurs, it creates brain activity similar to what occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. It’s during REM sleep that we resolve conflicts, process information and consolidate learning and memory. EMDR helps the brain to finally process the "stuck" material and assist clients to come to an adaptive resolution. The painful event or trauma becomes a memory that no longer produces the emotional charge that it did before - the past is past.
It is important to understand that EMDR is not a technique that just uses eye movements or bilateral stimulation, but a complex, integrative treatment method that utilizes a very precise protocol. Most long term problems are not cured in a few sessions, however treatment with EMDR is generally shorter than traditional talk therapies. EMDR has become an invaluable therapeutic tool that has helped changed the face of psychotherapy and will continue to do so.