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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a physiologically based psychotherapy approach that is used to treat a wide range of issues. It is particularly effective in the treatment of trauma-related disorders and symptoms. EMDR integrates elements of exposure, cognitive, somatic, and psychodynamic therapies. Clients are asked to attend momentarily to past memories, present triggers, or anticipated experiences while also attending to bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation of the brain can be accomplished by several methods. A common method is to have the client move their eyes back and forth; other methods include bilateral tactile stimulation, or bilateral sound. The dual attention awareness seems to allow the client to vacillate between traumatic memories and the safety or the present moment.
The therapist works with the client to identify the problem that will be the focus of therapy. While the client brings to mind the disturbing event, issues, thoughts, feelings, and current beliefs about the event, the therapist helps the client engage in the directional movement of the eyes. The client is asked to notice whatever comes to mind. All people process information differently so EMDR does not work exactly the same for all clients. The process of bringing content to mind while engaging in eye movements continue until memories, thoughts, and feelings become less disturbing. Eventually most clients begin to experience positive thoughts and beliefs. By the end of most sessions, clients generally experience a sense of understanding and wellbeing. EMDR is usually conducted in 60 to 90 minute sessions. The number of sessions need to process an issue will be dependent on the client and the issue. Many people experience relief in a relatively short period of time.
It is not completely known how EMDR works, however most research suggests that bilateral stimulation improves the processing of trauma-related memories by influencing the way the brain processes information. One hypothesis suggests that the bilateral eye movement facilitates interaction between the brain's hemispheres while another suggests that eye movement activates a neurobiological state similar to REM sleep. During the treatment clients frequently experience emergence of insight and changes in memories which subsequently improves trauma related symptoms.
EMDR has been studied extensively. There are approximately 20 controlled studies that have demonstrated that EMDR decreases and often eliminates symptoms of post traumatic stress and anxiety.