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EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

The mind can often heal itself naturally when we are asleep especially during the rapid eye movement phase or REM (dream) sleep. In 1987, Francine Shapiro, PhD developed EMDR therapy to use this process of eye movement as a successful therapy to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since then two things have happened:  One, scientists all over the world have been conducting peer reviewed studies to challenge or validate the effectiveness of this method.

The result is that EMDR is recognized worldwide as an evidenced based practice and has the endorsements of many international agencies and associations including the US Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense, The United Kingdom’s Department of Health, the Israeli Council for Mental Health and many others. The second thing is that EMDR has now applications to treat a wide array of problems beside PTSD. These include anxiety disorders and panic, eating disorders, dissociation, complicated grief, addiction, smoking cessation, sexual/physical abuse, performance anxiety, phobias, phantom pain, many others and other applications are being developed as you read this! As of now EMDR has helped over one million people.

When a person is traumatized our brain is designed to help us survive by storing that information is a way that we can experience that information quickly and never forget so we can protect ourselves in the future if such danger is present. This way we can fight, flee or freeze to protect ourselves from the next attack.  The memory is frozen as an unprocessed, raw form that includes pictures physical sensations, emotions and thoughts that get replayed over and over. The resulting experience can be so intolerable that people will attempt to cope by drinking, drugging, dissociating, self- injury, engaging an eating disorder, develop OCD or other anxiety disorders or compulsive behaviors.

Depression can also result. Regretfully these memories hijack our brain when it attempts to learn new ways to cope in the present. The horror of the past is relived in the present and suffering continues. Small life traumas that may not include violence or physical abuse can have a huge impact on someone just as more obvious events. People can end up responding in a similar way in terms of coping and suffering. EMDR is just as effective for small traumas as big ones.

EMDR is used to develop resources needed for healing and then is able to open that memory and expose it to these resources so it changes and becomes emotionally neutral. The individual can still access the memory but it no longer as distressing. The individual remains aware and in control throughout the EMDR sessions.  EMDR is person centered which means the person joins with the therapist together to collaboratively do this work but even during reprocessing, the individual is always empowered to control what is happening. This is a form of exposure therapy but EMDR therapists take as much time as needed to prepare people so they have the coping tools to process safely. Several sessions may be necessary for preparation and for desensitization and reprocessing but overall it is a very fast process. How long or how many sessions is different individual to individual. EMDR’s effect on memories are permanent and do not wear off.

There are different ways to apply EMDR therapy to treating addiction. A typical session for trauma is 60-90 minutes. It may only take 30 minutes to desensitize a craving, though there may be many times of the day or other associations with cravings that may need desensitizing. A Feeling State approach permanently eliminates addiction. This can be applied to most compulsive behaviors including compulsive eating and/or aversion.

A consultation can determine whether EMDR Therapy is an effective option, though sometimes more in depth additional assessments may be necessary.