Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987, is a groundbreaking psychotherapy and considered one of the most effective treatments for trauma related disorders. For years EMDR has brought relief to countless people suffering the debilitating and stubborn symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. P.T.S.D. can result from exposure to a single traumatic event or an ongoing traumatic situation. A trauma can be described as an event in which a person’s life or well-being is threatened, whether the danger is actual or just perceived. A person can also be traumatized by witnessing someone else being exposed to violence or an otherwise threatening situation. Their response involves intense fear, and a feeling of helplessness or horror.
The most prominent symptoms of P.T.S.D. are:
-Recurrent thoughts, images, or perceptions of the traumatic event
-Re-experiencing the event in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, or hallucinations
-Avoidance of places and situations that in some way remind the person of the trauma
-An increased startle response, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and other mood disturbances
EMDR theory explains that the human brain has built-in structures and mechanisms to cope with traumatic situations. When an event is too overwhelming for the person to digest, it becomes stored in a dysfunctional way in the emotional center (right side) of the brain. Like a phonograph needle that gets stuck on a record, our brain continues to re-experience the most troubling aspects of the traumatic incident. The person may know logically (left brain function) that the dangerous situation has passed, however they continue to respond emotionally and physiologically as if the danger was ongoing.
EMDR therapy works by increasing communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, so that a person’s overall perception is guided more by their rational understanding than by their emotional reaction. As a result, the individual is able to develop more adaptive coping strategies. Traditionally this is accomplished by the therapist directing the person’s eye movements in a side-to-side motion. This is referred to as “bi-lateral stimulation,” or “BLS.” The mechanics are similar to what occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, when the brain experiences a heightened level of activity. Bi-lateral stimulation can also be achieved with the use of sound and touch. Memories and situations that were once sure to cause the person great distress, can now be experienced without fear and no longer cause disruption in their life.
EMDR has proven effective not only in resolving life’s most shocking events such as accidents, violence, and abuse, but also the more common injuries of everyday life; what are referred to as “small t” traumas. These would include the loss of a loved one, job, relationship or pet, feelings of failure, and illness. Any disturbing life occurrence which does not resolve within a reasonable and expected period of time is likely to be a good candidate for EMDR therapy. Since its inception, EMDR’s applications have continually grown. It has been shown to be effective in treating other anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain, and a host of other issues. Additionally EMDR has proven an effective treatment for combat veterans suffering P.T.S.D. effects.