Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing(EMDR) a Treatment For PTSD?


Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed to resolve symptoms resulting from disturbing and unresolved life experiences. It uses a structured approach to address past, present, and future aspects of disturbing memories. The approach was developed by Francine Shapiro[1] to resolve the development of trauma-related disorders as resulting from exposure to a traumatic or distressing event, such as rape or military combat. Clinical trials have been conducted to assess EMDR’s efficacy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Theoretical basis

EMDR integrates elements of imaginal exposure, cognitive therapy, psychodynamic and somatic therapies. It also uses the unique and somewhat controversial element of bilateral stimulation (e.g. moving the eyes back and forth). According to Francine Shapiro’s theory, when a traumatic or distressing experience occurs, it may overwhelm usual ways of coping and the memory of the event is inadequately processed; the memory is dysfunctionally stored in an isolated memory network. When this memory network is activated, the individual may re-experience aspects of the original event, often resulting in inappropriate overreactions. This explains why people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic incident may have recurring sensory flashbacks, thoughts, beliefs, or dreams. An unprocessed memory of a traumatic event can retain high levels of sensory and emotional intensity, even though many years may have passed.

EMDR uses a structured eight-phase approach and addresses the past, present, and future aspects of the dysfunctionally stored memory. During the processing phases of EMDR, the client attends to the disturbing memory in multiple brief sets of about 15–30 seconds, while simultaneously focusing on the dual attention stimulus (e.g., therapist-directed lateral eye movements, alternate hand-tapping, or bilateral auditory tones). Following each set of such dual attention, the client is asked what associative information was elicited during the procedure. This new material usually becomes the focus of the next set. This process of alternating dual attention and personal association is repeated many times during the session.

The theory is that EMDR works directly with memory networks and enhances information processing by forging associations between the distressing memory and more adaptive information contained in other semantic memory networks. It is thought that the distressing memory is transformed when new connections are forged with more positive and realistic information. This results in a transformation of the emotional, sensory, and cognitive components of the memory so that, when it is accessed, the individual is no longer distressed. Instead he/she recalls the incident with a new perspective, new insight, resolution of the cognitive distortions, elimination of emotional distress, and relief of related physiological arousal.[2]

When the distressing or traumatic event is an isolated incident, the symptoms can often be cleared with one to three EMDR sessions. But when multiple traumatic events contribute to a health problem—such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, parental neglect, severe illness, accident, injury, or health-related trauma that result in chronic impairment to health and well-being—the time to heal may be longer.

Other Resources:

PTSD: Pathways Through The Secret Door

Wide Asleep Slumber No More

Bianural Frequency Harmonics

I’ll be doing more research on this so stay tuned

Timothy Kendrick

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