Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy technique developed by Francine Shapiro that emphasizes disturbing memories as the cause of psychopathology, and aims to alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
EMDR is effective for individuals who have experienced severe trauma that remains unresolved. According to Shapiro, when a traumatic or distressing experience occurs, it may overwhelm normal cognitive and neurological coping mechanisms. The memory and associated stimuli of a traumatic experience are often inadequately processed, and stored in an isolated memory network.
The goal of EMDR therapy is to process these distressing memories, reduce their lingering effects, and allow clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms. This is done in an eight-step protocol that includes having clients recall distressing images while receiving one of several types of bilateral sensory input, including side-to-side eye movements.
The use of EMDR was originally developed to treat adults suffering from PTSD, however, it is also used to treat addiction and other conditions, as well as children.
Francine Shapiro first developed EMDR upon noticing that certain eye movements reduced the intensity of disturbing thought and followed it up with a scientific study in 1989. The success rate of that first study using trauma victims was posted in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
Shapiro noted when she was experiencing a disturbing thought, her eyes were involuntarily moving rapidly. She further noticed that when she brought her eye movements under voluntary control while thinking a traumatic thought, anxiety was reduced.
Shapiro developed EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. She speculated that traumatic events “upset the excitatory/inhibitory balance in the brain, causing a pathological change in the neural elements.”
EMDR is now recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is one of the treatment modalities we use at Alo House Recovery Centers.