Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that relies on coordination of eye movements with information processing. It was developed to help people who suffer from symptoms relating to psychological trauma. Medical researcher, Francine Shapiro, has been crucial to the development of EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. A major application of the therapy is to treat sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing combines elements of several different psychotherapies including: psycho-dynamic, experiential , interpersonal, cognitive behavioural, and body-centred therapies.
Typical EMDR therapy involves the patient concentrating on external stimulus while they recall past experiences. The idea is to reorganise connections in the brain and eliminate the negative consequences of traumatic memories.
In the late 1980s, Francine Shapiro became aware that her eye movements would decrease the negative emotions connected with distressing memories. Shapiro wanted to develop a therapy based around this discovery as she believed it would be of benefit to other people.
Shapiro ran a number of experiments to test the effectiveness of EMDR as it was developed. These early studies revealed that eye movements were not, by themselves, delivering comprehensive therapeutic results, but when other elements were added, such as cognitive therapy, the results were more substantial. With five sessions of treatment it is was possible to comprehensively treat PTSD.
As EMDR was proving to be an effective treatment, with which patients could achieve positive results very quickly, Shapiro began to teach other clinicians the techniques of EMDR so that the benefits could be administered to a broader range of people. Shapiro’s initial training was restricted to a limited number of practitioners due to the fact that the procedures of EMDR were still experimental. After controlled studies of EMDR had been published in 1995, training restrictions were removed and training was opened up to a wider range of practitioners. At this time, the EMDR Institute was founded.
Francine Shapiro’s theory of EMDR is that traumatic experiences cause the central nervous system to be overwhelmed and, as a consequence, memories of the event are not processed properly. The memory is stored dysfunctionally and when the traumatic events are recalled the individual may re-experience the traumatic event. This theory explains the recurring thoughts, flashbacks, dreams or beliefs experienced by sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
EMDR works with a person’s memory networks in order to forge new associations between distressing memories and a person’s main memory networks. Thus it enables PTSD sufferers to come to terms with traumatic events in their lives.
The emotional, cognitive and sensory components of memory are transformed, so that, when the memories are accessed, the individual does not experience overwhelming feelings of distress that were experienced when the event first occurred. Through EMDR, memory of the traumatic incident is viewed from a new perspective.
The EMDR therapy process, as developed by Francine Shapiro, has eight phases:
Phase I: Verbal discussion between patient and practitioner so that a treatment plan may be developed.
Phase II: The patient identifies a safe place, a memory or image that elicits comfortable feelings. This safe place will be relied upon to reground the patient if they begin to become distressed during therapy.
Phase III: An image representing the negative experience is developed. This image will be focused upon by the patient during therapy.
Phase IV: The patient focuses on both the image and negative emotions associated with it. While doing so, the patient performs a series of special eye movements, for instance, moving the eyes from side to side. During this process the patient will remain in verbal contact with the therapist, discussing any new feelings which may occur.
Phase V: This is the “Installation Phase”. The therapist directs the patient to focus upon the positive image developed in Phase II. Simultaneously, the patient focuses on the image associated with the negative event.
Phase VI: This is the body-scan phase. The patient is queried about any feelings of pain or stress they may be experiencing in their body. If any feelings are identified, the patient is asked to focus on them.
Phase VII: The debriefing. The therapist provides helpful support and information to the patient to ensure the success of the debriefing.