What is EMDR?

EMDR Therapy is an extensively empirically-researched, integrative psychotherapy approach that has been proven effective for the treatment of trauma.

EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. As EMDR is a mental health intervention, it should only be offered by properly trained and licensed mental health clinicians.

How is EMDR developed?

Psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts under certain conditions in 1987.

Dr. Shapiro went on to study this effect scientifically and, in 1989, she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Since then, EMDR has continued to develop and evolve through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, it is recognized by leading mental health organizations throughout the world, as an extensively researched, integrative psychotherapy approach that has been proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.

How does EMDR work?

The conceptualization of EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) Model.

In Shapiro’s AIP model, psychopathology (mental/ emotional /psychological problems) is caused by a disorder of memory. Stored, unprocessed memories are the basis of dysfunction perception, responses, attitudes, self-concepts, personality traits, symptoms. (Shapiro, 2001).

EMDR uses eye-movements or bilateral stimulation (tactile or audio) to help process distressing, traumatic memories and beliefs that have been “frozen” in the brain it their “raw” form’ because they have not been properly processed. Therefore, when these memories triggered, they are very distressing and the brain may re-experience them as if they are happening again in that moment, even if they happened in the past.

In Post Trauamatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), traumatic memories may be recalled out of the blue causing flashbacks, nightmares and outbursts, which can be overwhelming to deal with. In complex PTSD and adverse childhood related trauma, traumatic memories stored in the unconsciously brain may affect the way we behave, our emotions and beliefs of ourselves when being triggered in present day.

Dr. Shapiro found that eye-movements / bilateral stimulation has a desenstizing effect on distressing memories.  Once a distressing memory is processed properly, it is integrated into the wider semantic long-term memory networks where associated images, body sensations, cognitions, beliefs and emotions related to the memory becomes integrated adaptively.

One theory of mechanism is that attention to the key elements of a disturbing memory, along with bilateral physical stimulation (particularly eye movements), stimulates the orienting response (Stickgold, 2002, 2008). This appears to facilitate the rapid reprocessing of information, such as may occur naturally during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. More than twenty randomized trials and recent meta-analysis (Lee et al, 2013) have demonstrated positive effects of the eye movements.

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What kind of problems do EMDR treat?

Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress (PTSD). However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:

Panic Attacks, Complicated Grief, Complex PTSD, Adverse Childhood Traumas,
Dissociative Disorders, Disturbing Memories

Phobias, Pain Disorders, Performance Anxiety,

Stress Reduction, Addictions

Sexual and/or Physical Abuse,
Body Dysmorphic Disorders, Personality Disorders

EMDR Patients share their stories video by EMDRIA:

Related References

Lee, C.W. & Cuijpers, P. (2013). A meta-analysis of the contribution of eye movements in processing emotional memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry, 44, 231-239.

Shapiro, F. (1989). Efficacy of the eye movement desensitisation procedure in the treatment of traumatic memories. J Trauma Stress. Apr;2(2): 199-223.

Shapiro, F: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (Second Edition). Guildford Press (2001).

Stickgold, R. (2002). EMDR: A Putative Neurobiological Mechanism of Action. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 58(1), 61-75.

Stickgold, R. (2008). Sleep-Dependent Memory Processing and EMDR Action. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, Volume 2, Number 4: 289-299.