Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or as it is known, EMDR is a technique used by many therapists who have had specialized training in its use for many disorders. EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model. It is very important for your EMDR clinician to explain and answer any questions clearly about AIP before proceeding with EMDR.
AIP posits that we all have the physiological ability for healing, which is activated without our effort. If you have a physical wound; the example, a splinter in your foot, the body automatically goes into action to heal the wounded area. If, however the splinter is too large to move out of the wound it blocks the healing process. When the individual experiences a traumatic experience, it is initially experienced in the limbic system; where many survival skills, fight, flight and freeze are controlled. In general, we have ways of healing/processing traumatic experiences and making sense of them without specialized treatment. When the experience is processed completely, the memory becomes stored in the pre-frontal cortex where reasoning and logic are controlled. The experience then becomes a memory, not necessarily a ‘good’ memory, never the less it lives in the past, not in our present tense experience.
People who meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD for example may have experienced trauma too great for them to make sense/process. The daily experience no matter how distant in time from the past experience feels it in the present tense. They experience hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares and physiological symptoms occur for no apparent reason, or are triggered by an event associated with the trauma; for example, hearing a loud backfire may be an auditory cue, triggering flashbacks to a combat veteran with PTSD. They are experiencing the thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, images, as if the past trauma was happening NOW.
EMDR is an 8-Pphase technique. All 8 phases must be complete for the process to be considered EMDR. Some of you may have seen an episode of “The Affair” which included EMDR. We know this was simply a Hollywood version. EMDR is not simply the left/right movement of the eyes. The client and therapist discuss the memory (target) to work on. The client is asked to imagine the worst part of the image, the negative beliefs about him/herself associated with the image, how disturbing it is, the emotions, and body sensations. The client is asked to report the positive beliefs he/she would prefer and how true the belief feels. Although we do not know precisely how bilateral stimulation of the brain works to activate the processing of this dysfunctionally stored information, it may be related to the same brain activity during REM sleep.
For more information on EMDR please visit: EMDRIA.org