EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is an evidence-based therapy that can help resolve painful life patterns by changing the way negative memories are stored in the brain. EMDR has a history of treatment and extensive research going back to the 1980s, is used by over 70,000 practitioners worldwide, and typically works much faster and more deeply than traditional talk therapy.
Millions of people of all ages have relieved many types of psychological stress with the assistance of EMDR therapy.
The name can be misleading, or even intimidating, as it suggests that eye movements are necessary, although they are not often used anymore (more on this in a moment). And what is meant by "desensitization" anyway?
History of EMDR
The researcher who discovered this in the late 1980s, Dr. Francine Shapiro, has been quoted as saying that she wishes the approach had simply been named "reprocessing therapy" as this is essentially what is occurring when people heal using this therapy. Based on what we now know about the human brain's ability to change, grow, and heal itself (often referred to as neuroplasticity), it seems that EMDR sets up the brain to be able to rewire, or reprocess, itself with updated, healthy beliefs.
This is accomplished by determining which past experiences are still lingering in a person's brain and body that contain unprocessed emotions (fear and guilt, for example), body memory (muscle tension, panic response, racing heartbeat), and false negative beliefs ("I'm in danger," "It's my fault", and so forth). Once we have a list of those experiences, or "targets," we help the client connect to those targeted memory networks by guiding them into a relaxed, mindful state (relaxed, not hypnotized). Once they have accessed the troublesome memory network, we then help the client use guided imagery, free association, and the healing power of their own mind to "process" the unprocessed memory.
Our minds and bodies move toward healing and will begin doing this primarily on their own, with the aid of the therapist to guide the process as needed.