EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a therapeutic healing model developed in the 1980s. It came into wide use in the latter part of that decade and has exploded in popularity and utilization ever since. It was developed, quite by chance, by Francine Shapiro, a research psychologist working in Menlo Park, CA.
I have practiced EMDR for over 10 years now, became certified in it in 2008 and continue to see its efficacy with a wide range of presenting problems. It’s an effective, focused, creative approach to working with little ‘t’ as well as big “T’ traumas. Most of us have our share of the little ‘t’ ones; its when they recur, shock and intrude upon us in present time that they assume big ‘T’ stature.
The beginning point of an EMDR protocol involves bringing a ‘target’ to mind, bringing that into front and center awareness. A target is an point of conscious focus, usually associated with a level of distress or disturbance. Bilateral stimulation (BLS) is introduced, either through alternating eye movements (hence the EM in EMDR) or with the use of alternating hand sensors or sounds. The target as well as the BLS is held in dual awareness simultaneously. BLS is conducted in timed sets with the opportunity to stop between sets to check in as to how the target changes, on what changes occur in the level of disturbance associated with the original target and to check in on whether there’s the need to adjust or shift the target in any way.
EMDR works best when a specific and profiled target is identified. Work to name and flesh out such a target is usually the initial task of setting up an EMDR protocol. Effective targets can be anything, ranging from chronic pain, to a image of an event, recurring or looping thoughts, a painful memory or a body sensation associated with a memory or images from the past linked with strong emotion.
My EMDR work starts with taking a history, extensive as necessary but specific to the goals of our EMDR work. Resource identification is an important aspect of that, meaning, calling out what works, what’s effective, potentially healing in dealing with distress and difficulty, past or present. This is often revelatory in and of itself since when we’re faced with difficulty, we’re apt to see problems, that which doesn’t work rather than what does work, maybe in simple, understated or assumed ways.
EMDR treatment takes many forms but starts from where you are now. The most common results I have seen involve lessening the emotional charge that’s bound up with a distressing memory or incident, gaining clarity in real time of with a scene-by-scene narrative vs. a blur of overwhelm or a fogged sense of the ominous. What’s in the past gets to stay in the past rather than the front and center of current time. People report feeling more breathing room, a sense of space around them and their own history and certainly in their felt sense of what’s available and important now.
EMDR also is a useful procedure in accessing, naming and enhancing resources available to us for performance enhancement, increasing those ‘applications’ available to us for dealing with challenging situations and increasing the contents of our tool box in facing life challenges, those little ‘t’ and big ‘T’ traumas.
I have successfully worked with EMDR with individuals with fear of flying, anxiety around impending surgeries, numbness following terrorist attacks, childhood physical abuse, motor vehicle accidents, creative blocks and the difficulties of dealing with demanding and intense bosses.
There’s realms of information about EMDR on the Internet. I would direct anyone wanting more info to the EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) web site. EMDR is a well researched protocol. With such a compelling and unconventional treatment approach, questions are bound to arise. Your own questions – and skepticism – can drive your research. In the end, you get to gauge whether EMDR could be useful for you. You get to make the choice.
Client comments………….. how EMDR work helped them…………
‘I have a memory of everything, but there’s no charge, no adrenaline. I stopped going into overwhelm at the drop of a hat. So life could go on! That right there was a big deal.’
‘Interestingly, I found that what was also helpful, after the therapy you gave, was taking exercise classes. The teacher calls out a series of moves, and I do them. Something about hearing the command, and doing it, seemed to blow away the PTSD cobwebs and help me get my mind strong again.’
‘I felt so relaxed afterwards’
‘Really, the change was immediate and permanent.’
Copyright, 2010, by Peter Goetz