Thursday, July 16, 2009

EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing - a quick route to emotional healing

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In a recent post about the therapeutic benefits of certain eye movements (moving your eyes upward), I also mentionned the technique known as EMDR. Fellow blogger "Here Under The Rainbow" suggested that a little more information on EMDR would make an interesting future post. So here we go . . .

EMDR has become the treatment of choice for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). It also has innumerable other applications, e.g. anxiety, phobias, performance enhancement, anger management, etc. If you have any emotional symptom that seems to last longer than it should, or has a degree of intensity not really warranted by the event that caused it; or if you are plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, fear, bitterness or depression with regard to some trauma in your past - it could indicate that for some unknown reason your brain and central nervous system have not "metabolized" (processed and come to terms with) the event.

Francine Shapiro, the founder of EMDR, discovered that if she moved her hand horizontally in front of a patients' eyes (instructing them to follow her hand movements with their eyes while they recalled the incident still causing them problems) - it seemed to make the traumatic or uncomfortable remnants of the trauma abate or settle down or "heal".

You could compare it to an open gash in your arm. We know that the natural healing process of the body will usually close and heal the gash on its own. Yes, you will and should be preoccupied with it at first - that causes you to do what needs to be done to get it to heal. Yes a scar will remain, and yes that scar may be tender to the touch, but generally you can go about your life and not be preoccupied with the wound - it has healed and closed and left only a scar to remind you of the physical trauma. In PTSD and other emotional problems it seems as if the natural healing process of the brain and central nervous system are interfered with and the person does not heal (the emotional wound does not properly 'close'). EMDR does not make your memories go away. But it closes the gaping wound, so to speak, so that you are left with just the scar of emotional trauma - a scar that does not dominate your life like an open wound does.

EMDR amazes all clinicians who use it in their practice. It also diminishes their income because it works so much faster than just talk therapy and patients go their merry way much sooner! For certain issues only 2 or 3 sessions of EMDR are required. It is NOT hypnotism. You interact with the therapist throughout. You can say you want to stop at any time. Clinicians know the client needs to be the one in control. This is not a technique to do on yourself. Psychotherapists who use EMDR have been trained in the process. There is a certain protocol to follow, and since people and life do not always follow expectations, you need an experienced therapist who knows how to handle whatever arises. Trained therapists in this technique know how to "close the EMDR process down" when the session ends - which is important.

This therapy should be offered to anyone who has been through a traumatizing event, (survivors of environmental disasters, war veterans, 911 survivors and rescuers, assault victims, etc). Many selfless EMDR-trained psychotherapists go to sites of disasters to offer their services gratis in times of need.

The four books above are just a few I have in my library on the subject. The two Shapiro books are written more with a clinician in mind. Parnell and Servan-Schreiber's books would offer anyone a good overview of EMDR.

I would highly recommend David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D.'s book, "The Instinct to Heal", as he highlights several techniques that can help you heal from pain, anxiety, stress, depression, etc. without drugs or lengthy therapy. One of these techniques is EMDR, and another called "heart coherence" is a simple, elegant way to use the love in your own heart to heal yourself. His book offers some simple ways to enhance your own well-being with your own efforts. I hope you check it out.


  1. That is so fascinating Bonnie. One thing is absolutely for sure... there is still so little we understand about how the brain works and stores things. Anything that can help the brain more effectively catalog and process things can surely help emotional response. Thanks for sharing this overview.

  2. You are most kind to take me up on the suggestion. This is a very fascinating post; one that I will e-mail or recommend to friends. Thank you so much Bonnie. Have a lovely rest of the week.

  3. Thanks for this post. I have been doing EMDR for a few months with a therapist at a veterans' center. My husband, who is the vet, will not do intensive therapy. But it has been recommended to me as well. I do find it helpful and very useful.

    That sounds like a good book you mentioned at the end.

  4. Hi Bonnie,do you think I can do this treatment by my self,learning from books?? Or you say I go look for a experienced therapist?


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