Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

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Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing

Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) is a well-established technique for dealing with anxiety and post-traumatic stress. It can also be used for anger, depression and addictions. For some emotional conditions it can be a very rapid and effective technique. EMDR can be effective in just one session for some conditions, while others may require several sessions before improvement is noted.

Traumatic memory is physically housed in a different part of the brain than is regular memory. The consequence is that the traumatic memory is allowed to persist without being modified by any of the information “known” by the rest of the brain. For example, the memory of an assault by a bearded assailant will be housed in an isolated part of the brain (men with beards = danger and fear). The isolated traumatic memory needs to “know” more of the relevant facts – not all men with beards are violent criminals, that the perpetrator of the assault is now jailed, or that the traumatic experience is in the past and no longer poses a threat.

Trauma researchers have discerned that bilateral stimulation of the brain (i.e. alternately stimulating the left and right sides) functions to help integrate those two sites of memory: the traumatic and the factual. Initially, bilateral stimulation was achieved through lateral eye movements (i.e. moving the eyes back and forth); hence the inclusion of “eye movement” in the title. Currently, practitioners use various methods of bilateral stimulation including eye movement, auditory stimulation and physical touch. “Desensitization” refers to lessening the intensity of the associated emotion, while “Reprocessing” refers to the opportunity to integrate the traumatic memory in a new way, similar to how the passing of time affords different opportunities (writing, thinking, talking to others etc.) to heal emotionally and lessen the pain of trauma. In some ways, EMDR can more quickly do for individuals what the passage of time achieves more slowly.