What is EMDR?

EMDR is the acronym for Eye Movement and Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1987. According to the EMDR Institute, Inc.,when Dr. Shapiro was walking in a park she realized her eye movements appeared to decrease the negative emotion associated with her distressing memories. She went on to conduct extensive empirical research and developed a concrete set of guidelines that included desensitization and reprocessing in conjunction with eye movement. EMDR is recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization and the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

In order to use EMDR therapy, you first, you have to find a therapist trained in EMDR. There are two initial levels of training for an EMDR therapist . Before you sign onto a therapist, it is important to ask what level of training they have had.

How does EMDR work? The theory is that unprocessed traumatic events stay stuck in the unconscious and or the body. Present events may trigger the unprocessed feelings/memories so that one’s reaction to the current event feels bigger than it should. It is the therapist’s responsibility to determine when you are ready to begin EMDR. During an EMDR session, you identify something causing you distress. The event you come up with is called the target. The therapist will ask you, on a scale of zero to 10, where is your current level of distress?

The therapist will ask you to follow her fingers with your eyes or an object she is holding. She will move it horizontally back and forth. Instead of using her fingers, some therapists use a light bar for you to follow back and forth. Some people prefer to hold tappers in their hands. These devices buzz from one hand to the other. According to your comfort level, your therapist can lessen or increase the intensity of the buzz.

You’ll begin the session focusing on the target and the emotions you are feeling as you follow the eye prompt or feel the tappers. Your mind will find its own path towards a memory, a feeling or another event. At a certain point, the therapist brings your attention back to her. She will briefly ask you what you noticed. Whatever it was will be the focus when you next follow the prompt. While all of this is happening, your brain is reprocessing the original traumatic event as desensitization to it occurs. At the end of the EMDR session your therapist will ask the level of distress you now have about the original target. The goal is to eventually have your distress be a zero.

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