What is EMDR?
EMDR is a therapeutic tool that some therapists use with their clients. It was developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1989. EMDR stands for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.” These words refer to the way that EMDR was first used – the client was guided by the therapist to move his or her eyes from left to right over and over again while thinking about something bothersome or upsetting. This movement of the eyes was found to help people quickly “re-wire” disturbing memories and emotions, rendering then completely undisturbing. Shortly after EMDR first came into use, it was discovered that any left-right movement of the body could bring about the same therapeutic results. Today, EMDR occurs by way of left-right eye movements, sounds (through a device that beeps in the left and right ears alternately) and touch (through tapping on the left and right sides of the body alternately). EMDR has been called an accelerated emotional processing tool because clients may rapidly resolve certain kinds of emotional issues that might have taken months or years to treat effectively with more regular “talking” therapies. Of course, like any psychological intervention, EMDR is more effective for some people than others.
What Does EMDR Treat?
EMDR was originally utilized to treat the effects of trauma. People with one-time traumatic experiences (like a car crash, assault, overwhelming medical experience and so on) could often find fast and effective relief with EMDR treatment. In addition, people who suffered years of trauma (like children who were physically, emotionally or sexually abused throughout childhood, prisoners of war, soldiers, abused women and so on) also benefited from the EMDR portion of their longer term therapies. In the early years, EMDR was used primarily to treat these kinds of traumatic experiences, anxiety and phobias.
However, over time, EMDR has been found to be helpful with the processing of more “ordinary” stresses as well – the upset of a job loss, the anger and hurt over a broken relationship, the worry about a child’s academic future and other normal difficulties of life. Some therapists use EMDR within the context of marital therapy as well as in the context of child therapy and regular adult counselling and therapy.
Effects of EMDR
There is no single therapeutic tool that works the same way on all clients. While many people will experience rapid and profound relief of stress and/or emotional suffering with EMDR, some people will have less intense positive benefits or even none at all. The nature of the client, the client’s issues and the experience and skill of the EMDR therapist plays a role in its success. There are therapists who use both EMDR and EFT (or another form of Energy Psychology), finding that some clients do better with one approach than the other and also finding that the two interventions can be used together for effective treatment. People experience the same sorts of changes with EMDR that they report with Energy Psychology: beliefs about the self and the world can change; emotional reactions to events and situations can change; bodily sensations and physical functioning can change. Sometimes long-forgotten memories may be recalled, the pain and hurt of traumatic memories can be cleared out of the system, and sometimes profound spiritual and transpersonal experiences may occur.
EMDR As a Therapeutic Tool
EMDR is one tool that a qualified therapist might utilize in an on-going therapy. Before using EMDR, the therapist must take a proper client history, establish a therapeutic relationship, clarify the goals of therapy and assess the client’s ability to process emotional material. For ordinary counselling with a healthy client seeking to relieve personal stress, all this may take one or two sessions before EMDR treatment can begin. However, for highly traumatized clients, the same process is more likely to take weeks or months. This latter group should be receiving EMDR from a therapist who is specially trained in the treatment of trauma (not just trained in EMDR). When a person’s symptoms are severe or interfere with functioning, it is important that the therapist be a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist who is able to handle all aspects of the client’s treatment.