Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is a relatively new psychotherapeutic approach, used to address a number of psychological issues, including depression and anxiety; phobias and performance anxiety, but is perhaps best known for its application in trauma/PTSD.
When someone experiences a traumatic or distressing event, psychological difficulties can occur if the event overwhelms our usual ability to cope and it is unable to be ‘processed’ or ‘filed’ in the person’s memory in the normal manner. This means that when the event is recalled, or something triggers a reminder, the person can feel they are re-living all of the feelings, tastes, smells, sounds, etc., that were associated with the event, leading to the distress being re-experienced as if it were happening again and again.
The theory underpinning EMDR is that if the event or memory is able to be processed, then the distress associated with it can lessen. EMDR involves thinking about the distressing event or memory, whilst at the same time following alternating left to right stimulation of the brain. This stimulation usually involves eye movements; by tracking the therapist’s fingers, a response which mimics the movements seen in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. (Alternatively this ‘bilateral stimulation’ can be achieved using alternating hand tapping or sounds.) During the course of treatment, more positive thoughts are introduced and along with the bilateral stimulation, the event can be processed or unblocked, which in turn can reduce the distress associated with the event or memory.