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Worthington, OH 43085-3948

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a relatively new (1987) form of therapy for people experiencing emotional distress. Distress may be acute or chronic and may be affecting many aspects of a person's life. EMDR may accelerate the treatment of anxiety, anger, guilt, and self-esteem, related to past events and/or present life conditions.

This therapy involves eye movements done by the individual as he/she thinks about the past events or the present life situation. These eye movements are similar to those that occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, or the sleep state where dreaming occurs, however, EMDR is done while the person is fully awake and thinking about the trauma or distress he/she is experiencing.

Although the therapist assists in maintaining the eye movement and in processing information that comes up, one advantage to this method is that the resolution of the issues comes from within the individual's mind and usually emerges spontaneously as the negative feelings are cleared. The therapist does NOT usually suggest, either directly or indirectly, how the issues are to be resolved.

Some facts individuals considering EMDR may want to be aware of include the following:

Anxiety, anger, and guilt are frequently reduced very rapidly, as a variety of symptoms that often follow traumatic events: intrusive recollections, reliving the event; avoidance; numbing; and symptoms of hyper-arousal such as sleep disturbance, irritability, difficulty concentrating and general anxiety.

EMDR is neither intrusive nor aversive.

This process is not hypnosis. The individual remains fully alert and in control of his/her choices. Suggestions for resolution of the issues are not usually made by the therapist.

No medications are involved although individuals will continue medications currently prescribed by the physician. If the need for medications decreases after EMDR, the individual is encouraged to discuss this with his/her prescribing physician. Occasionally it is advisable to repeat EMDR on the same issue if medications are greatly adjusted or discontinued, as additional information may be available at the time.

The individual may or may not experience strong emotions related to the event or the situation while doing the Rapid Eye Movement. If strong emotions are experienced, they generally pass within a few minutes if the person continues EMDR.

Sometimes past issues related to the presenting concerns will arise during the process. These can often be cleared during the same session.

Sometimes additional issues emerge after the session and once presenting issues are resolved. These can be dealt with in subsequent sessions if the person chooses.

Although individuals will remember the events and the sequence of events, sometimes vivid pictures and emotions related to the even may no longer be recalled after EMDR. (Usually this is when the individual prefers not to remember the event vividly.) If litigation or court hearings are pending however, it may be advisable to use depositions or careful notes and/or delay EMDR until after the hearings.

Conversely, some individuals have also noted clearer memory of events once trauma of the event is decreased. This may be particularly true when strong emotions prevent the person from remembering the incident clearly.

Sometimes relief from long standing symptoms brings about other adjustment in one's life. These may need to be explored with the individual's ongoing therapist or with the mental health professional that does EMDR.

Eye Movements Desensitization/Reprocessing, originated by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., has been used in California and some Virginia hospitals since 1988. Virtually no negative side effects have been identified other than occasional less clear memory of negative events and the necessity to adjust to a relatively rapid decrease of symptoms (both noted above).


Reprinted with approval from Kay Werk, LISW, EMDR Facilitator