What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) is an innovative psychological treatment which uses a combination of focused attention and bilateral stimulation (eg; eye movements, audio tones) to overcome anxiety and associated physical and mental distress. Bilateral brain stimulation (BLS) is the defining treatment element of EMDR. Bilateral stimulation is thought to reduce activity in the parts of the brain most responsible for anxiety - the areas of the brain involved in sensory-emotional processing. Many experts believe that EMDR is more consistent with brain structure and functioning than traditional approaches. Associated with this, EMDR has been found to change long-term emotional responses previously thought to be permanent, and to achieve treatment effects more rapidly.
The model on which EMDR is based, Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), posits that much of psychopathology is due to the maladaptive encoding of and/or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing life experiences. When an experience is overwhelming, our nervous system shuts down (or dissociates) as a way of coping. This protects us from painful feelings, but it also means that we never learn how to cope, we just survive. EMDR creates a space where we can revisit those overwhelming memories under conditions of reduced emotional distress and learn the lessons that need to be learned. New more adaptive beliefs about our self – eg; ‘I can cope’, ‘I am okay’.
At the core of this is the dual task-BLS wherein you focus on the distressing memory or feelings and BLS simultaneously. Relaxation and new insights often follow, almost magically and quite quickly. In contrast to traditional psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) these changes occur as a result of an experiential process rather than an intellectual one. As this process suggests, EMDR is activating an innate information processing capability that we all have – we just don’t know how to access. It also means that even seemingly maladaptive cognitions such as ‘I am bad’ do not represent the truth about you, just a developmental stage you got stuck at.
In addition to the method’s acceptance as an evidence-based psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is also growing evidence that EMDR can be helpful in the alleviation of a range of emotional disorders. This is the basis for bringing the BLS element of EMDR into a self-help application such as this. BLS is not however EMDR. EMDR is a multi-stage treatment process which can only occur in the context of psychotherapy. For more information see www.emdraa.org
Valiente-Gomez A, Moreno-Alcazar A, Treen D, et al. (2017) EMDR: Beyond PTSD; A systematic literature review. Frontiers in Psychology 8, 1688.