The Psychotherapy Treatment Method That Helps You Forget The Things You Can't: EMDR

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989a, 1989b). Shapiro’s (2001) Adaptive Information Processing model posits that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences to bring these to an adaptive resolution.

I mean, who wouldn't want to forget all the bad things they've experienced?


If you've watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind then you know that the couple in the movie was re-programming their memory in order to forget each other. You can use, not the same but, a similar type of method to do the same thing in real life.

The name of the method is EMDR, namely Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

In 1987, psychologist, Dr. Francine Shapiro, made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions.

Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically and, in 1989, she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Since then, EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.

What kind of problems can EMDR treat?

Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress.  However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in the treatment of the following conditions:

Panic Attacks, Complicated Grief, Dissociative Disorders, Disturbing Memories.

Phobias, Pain Disorders, Performance Anxiety, Stress Reduction, Addictions.

Sexual and/or Physical Abuse, Body Dysmorphic Disorders, Personality Disorders.

What is the actual EMDR session like?

If we have to explain without getting into too much detail we can say that the amount of time the complete treatment will take depends upon the history of the client. A complete treatment of the target involves a three-pronged protocol (1-past memories, 2-present disturbance, 3-future actions), and are needed to alleviate the symptoms and address the complete clinical picture. The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the experiences that are causing problems and to include new ones that are needed for full health. "Processing" does not mean talking about it. "Processing" means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be "digested" and stored appropriately in your brain. That means that what is useful to you from an experience will be learned and stored with appropriate emotions in your brain, and be able to guide you in positive ways in the future.

The therapist tries to help you use all your five senses as he/she sees appropriate.

The inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded. Negative emotions, feelings, and behaviors are generally caused by unresolved earlier experiences that are pushing you in the wrong directions. The goal of EMDR therapy is to leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviors and interactions.

Can everybody who wants to actually use EMDR therapy actually use it?

Even if there are many people who do this, it is not very logical, unless a therapist who personally knows you and analyzes your personality and susceptibilities very well suggests the treatment himself because EMDR is a very challenging method for the client. As a matter of fact, even if your consciousness is clear during the EMDR session, you don't have the control of your brain because you're one level below that of hypnosis.

How does EMDR work?

No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes "frozen in time," and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

The treatment of a traumatic problem by EMDR can be in a single session or in a couple of sessions.

However, the fact that it can solve problems such as quitting smoking, mourning, love affliction, cheating, and harassment in a single session miraculously is one of the factors that makes EMDR very interesting and attractive.

EMDR therapists are mental health professionals who meet specific criteria and have been through a long training process after they are accepted to the program, i.e. not practiced by all psychologists/psychiatrists. If people who don't know it well try to apply it, it is possible that the problem becomes a much bigger one instead of being treated. As a result, the previously uninitialized parts of the brain are reprogrammed and a wrong code can cause the operating system to become more vulnerable to viruses and crash. Good code is required for people who write good programs.

Is it 100% effective?

As there is no method like that, EMDR doesn't give positive results to all the clients, but it has a very high success rate.

The EMDR therapy is not known by most people. EMDR and Shapiro should be respected because a lot of people solved their problems with this method even though they'd tried many other psychology methods for many years.

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