Why EMDR is so important

"Controlled studies of victims of Vietnam combat, rape, molestation, accident, catastrophic loss and natural disaster indicate that the method is capable of a rapid desensitization of traumatic memories, including a cognitive restructuring and a significant reduction of client symptoms (e.g., emotional distress, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares. There are more controlled studies to date on EMDR than on any other method used in the treatment of trauma. A literature review indicated only six other controlled clinical outcome studies (excluding drugs) in the entire field of PTSD (Solomon, Gerrity, and Muff, 1992).

EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in 1988, and to date over 15,000 licensed mental health therapists in thirty eight countries have been trained. Because a clinical background is necessary for the effective application of EMDR, workshops are limited to mental health professionals who are licensed or certified to provide treatment. Training is considered mandatory for appropriate use (Shapiro, 1991b). EMDR is a specialized approach and method that requires supervised training for full therapeutic effectiveness and client safety. Clients are at risk if untrained clinicians attempt to use EMDR (Behavior Therapist, 1991). From the EMDR website www.emdr.com/

Bombing Survivors Try Unusual Therapy"

Desperate to rid himself of nightmares about the federal building bombing, Greg Pruitt settled into a chair and watched his therapist's fingers move rhythmically from side to side. As Pruitt discussed the sights and smells he encountered while participating in the rescue effort, the volunteer therapist asked him to rank his negative feelings on a scale of 1 to 10, then to focus on the worst.

The treatment forced him to zero in on the horror and helplessness he felt while ferrying bodies from autopsy sites to funeral homes in the days after the bombing. 'I would see that vision and be there and focus on it and then watch his fingers, and it was like I was moving above the image,' said Pruitt, 25.

The 8-year-old treatment is known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR. Advocates say it is rapidly effective for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Interview with Francine Shapiro

Here is what Dr. Shapiro says about EMDR, and how it works from an article in "Treating Abuse Today"*:

TAT: Would you describe the basics of EMDR for the benefit of readers not trained in it?

Shapiro: How to take a complex method and turn it into a 25 word answer! EMDR is a method by which we're able to target and reprocess traumatic memories such as rape, combat, accidents, or other memories that are causing individuals distress or ruining their lives by contributing to feelings of lack of self-esteem, lack of power, lack of being loved in the world, etc. These can be all those memories of early childhood experiences that become locked into the system, probably because of the stress during a developmental window. Obviously rape and combat experiences shape a person's self-view and EMDR is very effective in treating more recent adult trauma. However, it needn't stop here...much earlier experiences often negatively define the person in the present time. Therefore...we consider these childhood experiences no less a trauma and no less amenable to treatment. The method provides a way of being able to access those memories and then presumably catalyze an inherent information processing system that we believe we all have. This information processing system is hard-wired in all of us to be adaptive but early childhood experiences basically block the system and cause psychological disorders and distress. With EMDR we're able to go in, access those memories and catalyze that information processing system which then allows the information to move to an adaptive resolution. This means the person is able to take what is useful, self-enhancing or instructive from the experience and discard the rest.

TAT: What is your theory on how EMDR works?

Shapiro: It's vital to remember that EMDR is much more than just the eye movement, and positive treatment effects are built into every component. However, we believe that the eye movement specifically might be linked to what occurs in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The unconscious information comes up to be processed and the eye movements catalyze the information, allowing it to go to a less distressing form. The problem is that if the information is too distressing it can disrupt the eye movement and REM sleep so that REM sleep is not able to do its job. One of EMDR's components is a variation on this form of eye movement that enables us to take the body and mind further than it can go in the natural state. So we believe that that's one of the major parts of what's occurring with EMDR: capitalizing on an inherent mechanism the body has within it in a direction toward self-healing.

*EMDR: Unblocking the Mind's Natural Healing Process: An Interview With Francine Shapiro, Ph.D by Sheryll Stuart Thomson M.A., M.F.C.C., published in Treating Abuse Today, Vol. 3, No.2

I have found that this reprocessing aspect of EMDR, is not only useful in overcoming trauma, but it also seems to be successful, in helping people who are stuck in non-productive behavior patterns. EMDR is also effective with habit control, such as weight loss, smoking and other self destructive habits. Unfortunately, this does not extend to chemical dependency, which I feel is a disease, and does not seem to be helped by EMDR. However EMDR, can reduce the impact of certain triggers for a recovering person, making it easier to stay sober or clean.

The EMDR technique is most effective when used in conjunction with other traditional methods of therapy in treating these and many other emotional disorders.

EMDR therapy can help clients replace their anxiety and fear with positive images, emotions and thoughts.

In just one or two sessions EMDR can achieve the results that would take a year or more of traditional talk therapy. It has been frequently called an emotional stain remover.