Saturday, March 19, 2011

What is EMDR Therapy?

I first became acquainted with EMDR, when it was featured on a 1994 episode of the ABC television news show, 20/20. During the show, experts discussed the remarkable efficacy of this relatively new (at that time) therapy. Its reliance upon strange eye movements and purported ease of application / time-efficient resolution of disturbing memories heightened my curiosity.

I soon found myself attending the EMDR Institute's Level I and Level II Philadelphia trainings, which were led by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR's originator. I was also fortunate to have been able to read Dr. Shapiro's newly published, first book on EMDR, between my first and second training levels. I continue to use the therapy with most of my clients, in order to assist them with big and small destructive memories. I am also an EMDR seminar speaker for PESI.

EMDR does seem effective with most patients with whom I have worked. I am excited to estimate that about 60% of my patients have found significant, sustained relief; 30% modest relief; and 10% little to no relief with EMDR.

EMDR appears to be a natural way to process information. As humans, we have the unique ability to heal. It is not time that heals wounds. It is what wedo, over time, which helps us heal. Physically, if we cut ourselves we heal. However, sometimes the wound festers, requiring us to do something to assist the healing. Emotionally, we tend to find relief as we gain new perspective on a disturbing memory and think / feel differently about it, over time. Sometimes the disturbing memory may get "stuck" and "fester," wherein the bi-lateral stimulation of the saccadic eye movements of EMDR seem to help to get it unstuck, allowing us to finally make that link between what we "know" to how we "feel," in order to generate emotional relief.

EMDR is not only "eye movements." It is a therapeutic approach that draws upon many various psychological disciplines and relies upon an eight stage protocol. Although the exact mechanism of EMDR is not fully understood, some experts (See Uri Bergmann's "Speculations on the neurobiology of EMDR," as presented at the 1996 Harvard University-Cambridge Hospital EMDR symposium and featured within the 1998 edition of the journal, Traumatology: and believe that it may be related to stimulation of the amygdala to produce natural opiates.

Other experts believe that EMDR may involve some other mechanism associated with the memory processing of REM sleep. Still others believe that it has something to do with distraction. Whatever the mechanism of action, EMDR appears to be a very real phenomenon and remarkable therapy for helping patients to expedite the resolution of their disturbing memories.

As an educator, Jason's passion for teaching helped him to draw courage to volunteer his heartfelt story of grief so that others can understand the potential benefits of EMDR.
Video clip of my former patient courtesy of director Michael Burns.
Film's homepage can be found HERE.

Trailer for EMDR: a documentary film (2011)
Video clip courtesy of director Michael Burns.

Film's homepage can be found HERE.
More info on EMDR.

EMDR: a documentary film is "the most in-depth narrative investigation into this treatment, with exclusive interviews featuring the most influential personalities who coordinate EMDR development and training" (quote from Interviews are conducted with Dr. Francine Shapiro (EMDR's originator), Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, patients who have undergone EMDR, and others. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have been a part of this groundbreaking film, through a featured interview with my former patient and me. As an educator, Jason drew courage to volunteer to share his heartfelt story as a way to enlighten others about the potential benefits of EMDR.

I truly like the manner within which Michael Burns uses his film's narrative to blend EMDR stories into compelling evidence for the use of this therapy as a powerful method to transform emotional pain. This transformation has the real potential to help prevent unanalyzed hurt from impacting its negative ripple effect throughout the lives of individuals, families, and society as a whole.

As a psychologist, I have been using EMDR since 1995. I wholeheartedly agree that it remains a most remarkable approach for helping people to expedite the resolution of disturbing memories. The 2007 research of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk even demonstrates that EMDR is likely more effective than psychotropic medication for the sustained improvement of symptoms associated with clinical anxiety and depression.

I highly recommend this remarkable documentary for graduate psychology students, health care providers, and anyone else who is interested in EMDR and how the mind works to heal itself.

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