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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a therapeutic technique that helps clients to deal with trauma and disturbing memories. Developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., in the 1980s, EMDR has been extensively researched and found to be an effective method of treating posttraumatic stress. The theory behind EMDR is that trauma memories must be disrupted not only cognitively but also neurologically, allowing the brain to handle past trauma in a different manner. EMDR is described as an "information processing therapy" that takes place within a structured protocol. EMDR has been used extensively with survivors of sexual abuse and assault, as well as with survivors of other trauma such as natural disasters and war.

How does EMDR work? The therapist first establishes rapport with the client and provides a safe and secure atmosphere for the work. Then the client is asked to visualize the traumatic event while the therapist provides stimulation alternately to both sides of the brain, either by encouraging left and right eye movement or by using other techniques such as tapping. This is, of course, a vastly oversimplified description of the treatment, which is valued for significant symptom relief within just a few treatment sessions.

EMDR should only be undertaken by a skilled clinician who is trained in the technique. Initial certification in EMDR requires 20 hours of training and 10 hours of supervised practice. EMDR can provide significant relief for posttraumatic anxiety and distress, but clients may need other therapeutic strategies to handle a complex array of issues emanating from experiences of sexual abuse and assault.


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Reviewed: April 13th, 2015