EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) - Neuropedia

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)

EMDR is a psychotherapeutic modality for those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or any form of trauma. It was founded by Francine Shapiro in 1988. 

EMDR requires patients to recall traumatic events from the past, during which the therapist commands the patient to move their eyes in a certain direction. The tapping of hands may also be required. These exercises are known as ‘bilateral stimulations’.

The idea of EMDR revolves around the concept of ‘distraction’. The recalling of traumatic events is found to be less distressing when the concerned patient is offered distractions. Eye movements, in this case, serve as the diversion. EMDR is also referred to as a ‘trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy’.

This treatment is divided into a series of phases. It starts off by extracting a detailed history of the patient, which is then followed by a comprehensive analysis by the therapist. The patient is then introduced to several stress-coping mechanisms. 

The next few phases consist of an in-depth encounter with the disturbing memory which is dealt by bilateral stimulations–according to the EDMR protocol.

A typical session of EDMR lasts around 60-90 minutes. However, the duration is subject to variation. EMDR can be used on both adolescents and children. 

Therapeutic Uses Of EMDR

  • Trauma/PTSD
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Somatic disorders (phantom limb pain)
  • Autism
  • Pain management
  • Eating disorders or cravings
  • Drug addictions

Mechanism of Action of EMDR

During trauma, information is incompletely or incorrectly processed, which then ends up being stored as a dysfunctional memory. EDMR helps re-process these memories so that they can then be stored as a complete and less traumatic memory. Since the bilateral stimulations serve as a distraction, recalling such memories becomes less distressing.

It also employs the use of ‘dual attention’, where the patient is counteracting disturbing events from the past while being aware of the present.