Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique originally used to resolve emotional
responses to trauma. The method utilizes rapid alternating eye
movements similar to those which accompany dream sleep. The movements
of dream sleep (REM or "rapid eye movement" sleep) seem to enable the
brain to process and store recent events. Ordinarily this processing
occurs regularly with the events of the day. However, when a trauma
occurs, it seems to get locked in the nervous system with the original
picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings. The traumatic event does not go
through the normal processing and storage. The eye movements in EMDR
may unlock the nervous system and allow the brain to resolve the
Eye Movement: involves movement of the eyes in a pattern similar to the involuntary motion during REM or the fourth stage of sleep, the stage in which dreaming occurs. It is believed that the movement is related to the brain activity involved with information processing and the mechanisms which coordinate cognitive and emotional learning. Alternatives to eye movement, such as auditory signals or tapping of the hands are also used.
Desensitization: a process of changing an emotional response from being highly emotionally charged to neutral. In traditional forms, desensitization involved pairing relaxation with anxiety provoking stimuli until relaxation could be maintained. EMDR desensitization involves moving the eyes in a particular pattern while focusing on a memory of a problematic event including the physical sensations, emotions and thoughts associated with the event until the emotional distress level is lowered to neutral.
Reprocessing: a process which changes the negative self-image and belief emerging from a problematic experience to a positive and affirming belief about oneself. Reprocessing uses the same eye movement technique to integrate new ideas and foster a sense of resolution.
How does it work?
No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes "frozen in time," and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings havenít changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.
EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. One still remembers what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.
How long does it take?
One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR more fully and provide an opportunity to answer questions about the method. Once therapist and client have agreed that EMDR is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR therapy may begin.
A typical EMDR session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR may be used within a standard "talking" therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.
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