Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing


What Is E.M.D.R.?

How does it work?

Is E.M.D.R. for me?

What can I expect?

E.M.D.R. Links


What Is E.M.D.R.?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E.M.D.R.) is innovative and unique technique used by thousands of psychotherapists around the world. It has a wide range of applications for a variety of problems and to enhance personal performance.

The name of the technique was coined before it was learned that there were several ways of stimulating healing and the processing of thoughts, emotions, and memories. It's developer is Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. who found that certain types of traumatic memories respond to a particular type of rapid eye movement. She found that the benefits of this technique helped many people with unresolved traumatic experiences. With additional research, it was learned that there are a several ways to apply this techniqe using sound, movement, or bilateral stimulation such as tapping on hands. With time, it was learned that a wide variety of problems and conditions respond rapidly to E.M.D.R. including panic attacks, bereavement, phobias, addictions, anger control, and eating disorders to name just a few.

Clients who respond to EMDR are often able to make remarkable progress. It is not uncommon for individuals to make more significant progress in several sessions than in months or sometimes years of more traditional work.

EMDR does not cause one to forget the troubling thoughts and emotions. It is very different from hypnosis. However, it accelerates the processing of those thoughts and feelings so that the intensity of unpleasant feelings is dramatically decreased. Often clients find that their perceptions of their troubling experiences change radically so that they can finally begin to move on with their lives. The Washington Post wrote about the use of EMDR with traumatized rescue workers who helped after the Oklahoma City bombing. Among those were rescue workers from the Sacramento area. After going through EMDR many were finally able to sleep better and were less troubled by intrusive recollections, nightmares, and flashbacks.

How does it work?

At this stage of research, we believe that E.M.D.R. probably taps into a similar process that occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) dream states. We know that dreaming is a form of important informational processing. Even those who have no recollections of dreams expereince REM dream states several times each night. Without REM dream states, each of us would become increasingly disorganized, confused, and finally psychotic. Each life experience becomes stored together with accompanying experiences of our thoughts, interpretations, and even body perceptions. For example, lets say that a woman is traumatized in a life threatening car accident on the freeway. Seconds before the impact, her body responded to the danger with intense fear, muscle tension, and remarks to herself, "I'm going to die!" The sound of car horns were present before and after the accident. Each part of that experience is stored in her brain and nervous system. For months after the accident, the woman is plagued by flashbacks and troubling emotions. Like a scratched record, the unresolved information is repeated and resurfaces by many thoughts and subsequent reminders of the event. The sound of car horns, freeway trips, or the feeling of her heart beating quickly can trigger strong panic reactions or uncontrollable recollections. These reminders which are associated with life threatening danger are activated and may come to become associated with other experiences. (e.g., phobias) EMDR enables clients to process through these recollections and restructure how they are recalled. For example, this same imaginary woman may recall the accident at the sound of loud car horns but may respond in a relaxed fashion, confident that she has survived and is now safe.

EMDR appears to stimulate the both halves of the brain to address these troubling memories and move beyond them to the next step. It is common for people to experience a deeper understanding, insight, a sense of personal growth as these troubling experiences are integrated into their lives at last.


Is E.M.D.R. for me?

There are many different ways to for counselors to work with clients towards their goals. It is important for therapists to discuss the different forms of treatment which are availble. Ultimately, the decision is yours and should be based on a good review of the pros and cons of each method.

Your therapist should be trained in EMDR and be able to evaluate your suitability for that and other technques. This particular technique can stimulate the recollection of difficult and unpleasant experiences. It is not uncommon for clients to become tearful as the recall sad and painful moments. As a client, you remain in control of the process and together with your therapist can structure the session to make it as comfortable as possible.

It is not uncommon for clients to feel measureable relief as they process through these problems. Many experience this relief prior to the end of their sessions. Your experience will depend on a number of factors and your therapist can discuss those with you. Your counselor will have literature and perhaps even videotapes which can provide you with more information.

Unlike many psychotherapy techniques, there is no a fair amount of research completed on EMDR. Many of these studies confirm the benefit from this treatment. Summaries of this may be available from your counselor or at the EMDR institute website. (www.emdr.com)

What can I expect?

There are a number of different protocols for different types of problems and goals. Therefore, it is difficult to outline those here. I can say that clients often pick a target memory or thought to address with their therapist. This technique is far less reliant on talk and discussion than other forms of psychotherapy. The most healing parts of the procedure occur during the technique while you are thinking and processing your experiences. It is common for related thoughts, recollections, and even body sensations to surface during the technque. Often these are connected on a conscious or unconscious level and are related to the persistance of the troubling expereinces. Sometimes these are recollections from the past and sometimes in the here and now. Your counselor will probably ask you to rate how you feel to monitor your progress using a 0-10 subjective units of disturbance (S.U.D.S.) or a 0-7 to measure how valid or true a target goal seems at a given moment.

While some have intense, emotional experiences, some have quiet and orderly processing. These may depend upon your personality style, personal history, and other factors. It is important to relax and to observe your recollections as you might looking out at the scenery of traveling car window. As the material becomes processed, the negative emotions associated with it become lessened. In my experience I notice that clients often experience a sense of joy, peace, or even quiet laughter as they reach their target goal.

E.M.D.R. is an important new clincial tool that is helping thousands to feel better more quickly than they would have thought possible. If you have questions about E.M.D.R. you may call me at (916) 361-0440 or email me at :


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