Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR was originated by Francine Shapiro, PhD in 1987. Her keen self-reflections revealed that doing rapid eye movements from side-to-side effected the way she processed a disturbing memory. She developed a methodology around this dynamic, and created the EMDR Institute, where others joined her intrigue about the therapeutic value of this seemingly odd phenomena. A series of protocols and procedures were developed to create a comprehensive treatment methodology. The first research was published in 1989, and many validating studies have followed.
Our clinical experience suggests that bilateral stimulation impacts how the brain functions. It appears that there is less activation in the amygdala and primitive parts of the brain, and more activity in the neocortex and higher functioning parts. There is also evidence of an increase in activity in the corpus collosum, which connects the left and right sides of the brain. The therapy involves focusing on disturbing material, and simultaneously experiencing the bilateral stimulation. The effect is generally an increased sense of objectivity and enhanced self-confrontation, with a more rapid processing through disturbances to a sense of completion and resolution. This seemingly simple methodology is quite powerful. Clients are advised to find clinicians who are well-trained and supervised to promote an effective outcome.
When Dr. Shapiro first developed this approach, it was thought to be a "desensitization" process, and the only known mechanism was eye movement. Since that time we've realized that it is really more of a reprocessing dynamic, and that bilateral tapping or sounds also create the same effect. If I were to re-name it now, I would call this "bi-lateral processing." This work engages our organic drive to completion, and helps us to utilize it more effectively. Once we are in the process, our system appears hungry to work through memories and reactions that have been held in a disturbed or traumatic state.
I had a natural skepticism when a colleague encourage me to get trained in 1993, as it was still quite new and relatively few therapists knew anything about it. I became immediately impressed by my own experience of feeling myself process through difficulties in deep and rapid ways. Most helpful for me was the experience of trading sessions with a close friend and therapist who was trained with me. For 2 years we worked with each other on a weekly basis, experimenting and exploring. We were both process-oriented therapists, and found that the bilateral stimulation facilitated "pure processing." Understanding the nuances of this processing, and how traumatic events impact our nervous system have been crucial to effectively guiding this work.
I immediately began using EMDR with all my clients, with a wide range of presenting problems. EMDR was originally studied and researched as a "trauma therapy," and used extensively for post traumatic stress disorder. I found it to be universally helpful for all processing. I was so impressed that I became a Facilitator with the EMDR Institute training staff, and an Approved Consultant with the EMDR International Association.
As I have continued to explore what I find to be most effective for working with our nature, the integration of a strong somatic focus with EMDR has been a powerful teacher in my evolution as a therapist.