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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach. This treatment approach emerged when Francine Shapiro discovered in 1987 that eye movements have a distinct and beneficial effect on thoughts and emotions. In order to consistently reduce psychological disturbance and increase positive emotions it is necessary to follow a series of procedures structured in phases. From then there have been developed structured protocols that contained elements of many effective psychotherapies and are designed to maximize treatment effects.
By the way, EMDR is not necessarily done with eye movements. Tapping and auditory tones are other ways of bilateral stimulation that also work. In fact Francine Shapiro has stated that if she had to do it over again, she would probably name it Reprocessing Therapy.
What is reprocessing?
When a traumatic event happens, it can get “blocked” so that we experience the original thoughts, emotions, images, body sensations, and so on. Trauma very often leads to what is called “negative cognitions” about oneself and/or the others. When reprocessing, positive cognitions take place and strengthen, leading to changes in everyday life. During the work with EMDR, specific significant targets are reprocessed, which can be past memories, present triggers or anticipated future. EMDR lets us go through the experience in order to heal it. The patient is instructed to avoid trying to do anything specific, but to follow the therapist instructions and see “what comes up”. In this process we witness the emergence of insight, wonderful (some would say magical) changes in emotions and in sensations. It is the nervous system doing new associations, bringing forth resources and putting memories in the place they belong.
To read more about EMDR:
Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.