One of the most effective treatments for PTSD was discovered incidentally by Francine Shapiro, PhD, in 1987. When Shapiro was hiking and became anxious and overwhelmed, she noticed that as she scanned the environment with her eyes, moving them back and forth, she began to relax. This led her to assume that eye movements had a desensitizing effect, and when she experimented with it clinically, she found that other people had the same response. It became apparent that eye movements alone weren’t comprehensive, so she added other treatment elements and developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
What Does EMDR Treat?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was originally designed to treat the experience of trauma that results in difficulties with emotional adjustment in individuals. The American Psychiatric Association lists a number of disorders under the overall heading of Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders in the DSM–5, the latest version of the diagnostic manual. EMDR was intended originally to help in the treatment of PTSD, adjustment disorders, and acute stress disorder, which are still listed in the diagnostic manual. The proponents of EMDR have also gone on to claim that it is useful in treating a number of other different psychological problems/disorders that have components of anxiety, depression, and maladjustment to them.
How Does It Work?
During the EMDR procedure, the therapist has the client reflect on particular aspects of traumatic experiences that are associated with the most stress/emotional reaction while the client follows the hand motions of the therapist with their eyes. The therapist typically moves their fingers back and forth in front of the visual field of the client during this procedure, and the client, using only their eyes, follows this movement.
Does It Help?
While no one yet fully understands how EMDR works and why it is effective in reducing the negative aspects of trauma, it is known to be helpful for a wide range of problems. Trauma forms the basis of many conditions and if the trauma can be relieved, so can the resulting issues. EMDR has been found to bring relief to those suffering from PTSD, depression, stress, eating disorders, and even chronic physical pain.
EMDR has been applied to addiction treatment. Addicts often began using in an effort to repress traumatic memories. By treating those memories, the need to abuse a substance disappears. Although it is not a perfect cure, using EMDR to reduce negative emotions surrounding a trauma can have a powerful, and very importantly, an immediate effect on addicts. It may be especially helpful when combined with other types of therapies or support groups.
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