EMDR was developed to resolve symptoms resulting from unresolved or troubling experiences. Francine Shapiro developed this treatment as a structured means to resolve trauma related disorders. Studies have shown it to be as effective as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or exposure therapy in treatment for PTSD.
EMDR uses the unique and slightly controversial element of moving the eyes back and forth (bilateral stimulation) combined with exposure, cognitive, somatic, and psychodynamic therapies. The theory states that when a trauma occurs, the event is unable to be processed in the normal way and is therefore stored differently than other memories. When this memory is activated, the individual may feel as they are reliving the experience. The unprocessed memory may be intense even after many years have passed.
There are eight phases of EMDR which address the past, present and future components of the memory. The processing phases consist of 15-30 second sets in where the client focuses on the memory while completing a dual attention task such as lateral eye movements or alternative hand-clapping. Following each set, the client is asked what associative information came to the surface during the procedure. That information usually becomes the focus of the next set. This process is repeated multiple times.
The theory contends that this process helps to enhance information processing in the memory networks by forging new associations between the distressing memory and the rest of the memory network. These new connections are merged with more positive, realistic information. The results allow the patient to access the memory without the previously experienced feelings of distress, instead recalling the incident with a new perspective.
If the distressing event was an isolated incident, EMDR can often clear the symptoms in as few as one to three sessions. If there were multiple incidents, the time to heal may be longer.