Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that is proving helpful for people with patterns of anxiety. Anxiety is a challenging mental condition that not everyone experiences in the same way. Some people might feel anxious about meeting new people, others continuously fret over loved ones, and some may feel more deeply than others about the troubles of the world.
More severe forms of anxiety come with their own names. One of the better-known anxiety issues is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – a debilitating mental condition that can impede a person’s ability to function in the world. Whatever the severity of the anxiety, EMDR is a promising therapeutic strategy that is bringing peace to many.
What Makes EMDR an Effective Treatment?
How EMDR achieves the results it does is not entirely clear, but we do have a few theories. One group of researchers believes that EMDR may synchronize the two hemispheres of the brain. Another branch of research suggests that EMDR may distract a person from an anxiety-inducing memory, which helps them relax.
EMDR’s effectiveness is thought to come from the back and forth movement of the eyes, or other forms of bilateral stimulation. The alternating stimulation is performed while the client thinks about the memory, which causes the brain to reprocess it into one that has less feeling and intensity attached to it.
People who have undergone EMDR therapy have reported feeling very calm and relaxed during their recollection of past traumatic experiences, with the process somehow managing to dull the pain of traumatic memories.
The eye movements performed by EMDR are thought to have some similarities with the rapid eye movements (REM) which occur during the dream cycle of sleep. Dreams are considered by many to be a coping mechanism the brain uses to come to terms with upsetting events.
Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School says, “We believe that EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep, that allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.”
The Development of EMDR
Sometime back in 1987 when psychologist Francine Shapiro was enjoying a walk in the park, she suddenly realized that the movements of her eyes coincided with a decrease in the negative emotions she felt because of distressing memories.
During a video interview, Shapiro stated that, at that time, she had been diagnosed with cancer and was going through a stage where she was intently focused on researching the mind-body connection, and the effects of stress on the body.
Her intense musings led her towards combining eye movements with cognitive processes to reduce the level of distress and increase the strength of positive beliefs.
EMDR was introduced to Shapiro’s associates who were experiencing similar issues like issues at work, or spousal problems. After some experimenting, she soon discovered that eye movements could also affect others in the same way.
Shapiro started to include trauma victims, and people with PTSD into her program. Her fledgling EMDR program was able to reduce the severity and intensity of symptoms brought on by the memories of traumatic experiences.
Today, there are tens of thousands of therapists trained in EMDR therapy around the globe. Plus, there have now been more than 20 controlled clinical trials that back up its effectiveness in helping people from all walks of life, age groups, genders, and cultures.
The best testaments to EMDR therapy come from people whose lives are benefiting from the procedure. Many clients who have lived through traumatic childhood experiences or people with PTSD have been able to find relief from their debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. EMDR has allowed them to pick up the pieces and get some control back in their lives.
Discover more about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing here: EMDR