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What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

A powerful clinical treatment that has been shown to be effective for victims of traumatic experiences. It has also proven to be effective in the treatment of addictions, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. One theory of EMDR suggests EMDR somehow mimics REM sleep. For example, when a trauma occurs it seems to get locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings. The eye movements we use in EMDR seem to unlock the nervous system and allow the brain to process the experience. That may be what is happening in REM sleep or dream sleep-- the eye movements help to process the unconscious material. It is important to remember that it is your own brain that will be doing the healing and that you are the one in control.


The EMDR International Association's definition of EMDR:

EMDR is an approach to psychotherapy that is comprised of principles, procedures and protocols. It is not a simple technique characterized primarily by the use of eye movements. EMDR is founded on the premise that each person has both an innate tendency to move toward health and wholeness, and the inner capacity to achieve it. EMDR is grounded in psychological science and is informed by both psychological theory and research on the brain. 

EMDR integrates elements from both psychological theories (e.g. affect, attachment, behavior, bioinformational processing, cognitive, humanistic, family systems, psychodynamic and somatic) and psychotherapies (e.g., body-based, cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, person-centered, and psychodynamic) into a standardized set of procedures and clinical protocols. Research on how the brain processes information and generates consciousness also informs the evolution of EMDR theory and procedure. 

The Adaptive Information Processing model is the theoretical foundation of the EMDR approach. It is based on the following hypotheses:

  1. Within each person is a physiological information processing system through which new experiences and information are normally processed to an adaptive state. 

  2. Information is stored in memory networks that contain related thoughts, images, audio or olfactory memories, emotions, and bodily sensations.

  3. Memory networks are organized around the earliest related event. 

  4. Traumatic experiences and persistent unmet interpersonal needs during crucial periods in development can produce blockages in the capacity of the adaptive information processing system to resolve distressing or traumatic events. 

  5. When information stored in memory networks related to a distressing or traumatic experience is not fully processed, it gives rise to dysfunctional reactions. 

  6. The result of adaptive processing is learning, relief of emotional and somatic distress, and the availability of adaptive responses and understanding. 

  7. Information processing is facilitated by specific types of bilateral sensory stimulation. Based on observational and experimental data, Shapiro has referred to this stimulation as bilateral stimulation (Shapiro, 1995) and dual attention stimulation (Shapiro, 2001). 

  8. Alternating, left-right, visual, audio and tactile stimulation when combined with the other specific procedural steps used in EMDR enhance information processing. 

  9. Specific, focused strategies for sufficiently stimulating access to dysfunctionally stored information (and in some cases, adaptive information) generally need to be combined with bilateral stimulation in order to produce adaptive information processing.

  10. EMDR procedures foster a state of balanced or dual attention between internally accessed information and external bilateral stimulation.  In this state the client experiences simultaneously the distressing memory and the present context. 

  11. The combination of EMDR procedures and bilateral stimulation results in decreasing the vividness of disturbing memory images and related effects, facilitating access to more adaptive information and forging new associations within and between memory networks.


Want more? Check out EMDRIA's official page here

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