EMDR is the acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This treatment was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro to help those with trauma related disorders, such as, PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), whose natural ability to process traumatic experiences was compromised.
The hypothesis is that EMDR therapy bilateral stimulation (eye movements, audio beeps, tactile pulses) replicates REM sleep, which is presumed to assist the brain in processing the information it received during the day. The idea being that the eye movements (or other forms of bilateral stimulation) add to the therapy’s effectiveness by evoking neurological and physiological changes to aid in the reprocessing of the trauma memories.
We all experience events in our life that cause emotional injuries, whether it is being bullied on the schoolyard playground (small “t” trauma), or the victim of a violent assault (big “T” trauma). In response to those events we have a number of emotional (grief, fear), cognitive (“I cannot handle this”), and physiological (heart palpitations, flushed face) reactions. What differs between individuals is the processing of such events. Those who develop PTSD, anxiety, depressive symptoms, low self-esteem from these life events are presumed to have not fully “digested” their experience and are “stuck”.
EMDR therapy is based on the idea that Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) has been disrupted for the individual whether it is via a small “t” or a big “T” trauma. The increased arousal level stores the experience in the memory in an unprocessed form. The memory is implicit rather than explicit, meaning that rather than it just being a memory, it affects us in our current life at an unconscious level as a contaminate. EMDR therapy allows the associated neurobiological channels linked to the memory to be processed (digested properly) and cleared. While it appears that the core issue causing a person to be “stuck” is a self-referent negative belief (i.e. “I am inadequate”); the way to access that is through free association, which is actually a psychodynamic technique (think Freud). Exposure techniques are also employed as the individual recalls the event that causes emotional distress, thus allowing desensitization to file the memory properly.
In addition, the research findings support significant empirical results for EMDR therapy beyond use with PTSD. EMDR therapy is being successfully used with anxiety disorders (panic, OCD, phobias), addictions, bipolar disorder, and psychosis, as was presented by founder Dr. Francine Shapiro at the EMDRIA 2012 Annual Conference.