Healing With EMDR
Tom Golden LCSW
A woman was walking through a park one day troubled by some pressing personal matters. When she arrived home from her walk she realized that for some unknown reason she felt much better. She knew from her training as a psychotherapist that “nothing” seemed to have happened during the time of her walk. She struggled to remember any detail that might be related to such an improvement in her mood. The only thing she could remember was that several times during the walk her eyes moved back and forth in an odd sort of way. She began experimenting with this eye movement, and after years of clinical trials by many therapists, academic research, and refining the procedures, a new psychological technique was born: EMDR.
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a powerful new method of doing psychotherapy which has helped nearly a million people of all ages relieve many different types of psychological distress. It is effective in dealing with anxiety, panic, self esteem issues, disturbing memories, post traumatic stress, memories of abuse, complications of grief, and many other problems.
But we don’t know exactly how it works. We do know that when a person is very upset the brain seems to be unable to process information as it does ordinarily. This difficulty in processing can continue for some time. EMDR seems to help people break this cycle by dramatically speeding up the processing of upsetting events.
The technique involves pairing the events with certain eye movements. Let’s look at an example. A woman came to me some time ago because she was having trouble with upsetting and unpredictable anxiety. We worked together to identify a specific problem to be the focus of treatment. I then asked her to call to mind the disturbing material, including related thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. As she focused on this upsetting material, she performed sets of eye movements at my direction. As she did this she simply stayed aware of what came to mind without trying to change or edit the content or direction. We continued in pairing the eye movements with the resulting thoughts and feelings as they arose. This process continued for twenty minutes to half an hour. A usual EMDR session lasts about 90 minutes when you include the time taken to prepare for the actual eye movement.
Studies have shown that treatment with EMDR consistently results in neutralizing the targeted troubling emotion or memory. The memory is still there but less painful; the sting is gone.
Additionally, the speed with which EMDR achieves this result is quicker than with traditional therapeutic techniques. For the woman in the example above five sessions of EMDR was enough for her to feel free from the original symptoms. Research indicates that the changes which result from EMDR will tend to maintain themselves over time.
One of the most positive features of this technique is that a client can’t do EMDR incorrectly! Although each person processes things in his or her own unique manner, whatever comes up and gets processed is the right thing! This is a dramatic difference from the old methods of therapy which relied more heavily on the insight of the client and the direction given by the therapist. EMDR, which is one of the first female-created forms of psychotherapy, fosters a new and interdependent type of alliance between client and therapist.
EMDR is not a panacea but it is a powerful technique which can quickly and easily help us enjoy our lives in greater peace.