EMDR, “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing” therapy, is a tool therapists use to help patients recover from trauma. First discovered by Francine Shapiro in 1987, it has grown in popularity. It has helped treat disaster victims, like the Floridians who survived 1992’s Hurricane Andrew; the rescue workers and survivors from 9-11 in New York City; and in 1995, the FBI called on teams of skilled EMDR specialists to assist victims after the Oklahoma bombing.
In the early years, people were skeptical of EMDR, not fully understanding its power. But the skeptic soon turned into a believer after witnessing miraculous results. Research has documented incredible transformations, like Dr. Howard Lipke’s work with Vietnam veterans. He reported an 80% improvement for veterans after being treated with EMDR. His findings were corroborated by Patrick Boudewyns of the Augusta, Georgia, Veterans’ Administration Medical Center and the Medical College of Georgia.
EMDR became a new breakthrough for the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and those suffering from trauma. With the use of EMDR, patients are able to clear false belief systems, recover from traumatic memories, and go on to live happier and more fulfilling lives. Conditions stemming from rape, childhood abuse, accidents, or eating disorders, and the general client who suffers from a painful past, death of a loved one, or other loss can be treated with EMDR.
EMDR is a complex treatment that requires patient assessment and the expertise of a trained clinician. It’s integrated with traditional talk therapy to remove dysfunctional emotions and beliefs. Most recently, it’s getting excellent results with children who suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
EMDR works best with patients who are open to change, willing to feel uncomfortable feelings, relive disturbing thoughts, and revisit painful memories. In EMDR, troubling memories can be intensified because the patient needs to focus or concentrate on the disturbing image. It won’t work with a patient who is unwilling to relive painful past events.
Unlike in hypnosis, the client has control and will gain spontaneous insights that continue long after the initial session. EMDR seems to work by clearing the bad memory, allowing the patient to feel freer, more alive, and empowered. Undesirable behavior patterns transform into functional behaviors and core beliefs transform into healthy thinking.
A clinician I know uses EMDR in Massachusetts. Years ago, she was called upon by the state to treat two boys whom authorities had found in a cold, unfinished basement cellar. They had been locked in cages, chained like dogs and sitting in their own feces, having been abused for months. This clinician is an expert EMDR therapist and when we met she reported that the results were stellar and she couldn’t be more pleased. She told me her kids (child clients) call EMDR “Magic.”
But EMDR is not hocus-pocus. It’s a healing power that surpasses traditional talk therapy for healing trauma victims.
- Learn more about EMDR by logging onto the EMDR Institute’s website.
- Other helpful links can be discovered at EMDRIA, EMDR International Association.
- A great read on the topic is the book written by Laurel Parnell, Ph.D. entitled “Transforming Trauma: EMDR.” In it, Dr. Parnell shares her own experience with EMDR as a client and as a facilitator helping those suffering from trauma.
Laurel Parnell, PHD, Transforming Trauma: EMDR. (W.W. Norton & Company 1997)