The eyes have it: EMDR catching on as therapy technique

Nov 08 2017

The eyes have it: EMDR catching on as therapy technique

Addiction treatment counselors use a variety of techniques to help their clients deal with issues that might impede their recovery. One of the newest ones being used by treatment centers is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a psychotherapy technique which has proven effective in helping people who suffer from trauma, anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post traumatic stress and many other emotional problems. EMDR advocates consider it a valuable therapy because it can yield quick results, providing lasting relief from many types of emotional distress.

EMDR appears to stimulate processing of negative memories by closely mimicking the natural process that occurs during sleep, when the brain enters Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. EMDR therapy uses rapid and rhythmic eye movements to stimulate the brain, combined with guided recollection of trauma.

EMDR therapy was originally discovered as an approach to address stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms related to traumatic events and memories. EMDR was developed by the American psychologist Francine Shapiro, in the late 1980s, primarily as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation, right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation, which repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system. This helps the neurophysiological system, to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself. As troubling images and feelings are processed by the brain via the eye-movement patterns of EMDR, psychological issues are resolved, leading to peace of mind.

The therapist begins by gently asking the client  to revisit the traumatic moment or incident, recalling feelings surrounding the experience, as well as any negative thoughts, feelings and memories. The therapist then holds her fingers about eighteen inches from the client’s face and begins to move them back and forth. The client visually  tracks the movements.

The more intensely the client focuses on the memory, the easier it becomes for the memory to come to life, according to EMDR therapists. As images appear during the therapy session, they are processed by the eye movements, resulting in painful feelings being exchanged for more peaceful, loving and resolved feelings.

Since the first medical study in 1989, positive therapeutic results with EMDR have been reported with the following populations:

— People who have witnessed or been a victim to a disaster (rape, accidents, earth quakes, fires, murder, gang related violence)
— Clients suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) https://drugabuse.com/library/emdr/
— Sufferers of panic disorders and anxiety attacks
— Sufferers of phobias
— Chemically dependent clients
— Persons exposed to excess loss ( loss by death, divorce, loss of a house by fire)
— Crime victims and law enorcement officers who were once overcome with violent memories
— Accident or burn victims

Does EMDR produce side-effects? According to the EMDR Institute, some unexpected results can occur during or after therapy, such as stronger-than-expected emotions, or some physical sensations. In the days following treatment, the processing of experiences may continue, and other dreams, memories, or feelings, may emerge – possibly warranting a follow up call to the therapist.

Scientists believe that EMDR triggers a change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep,  allowing the patient to “more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain,” says Robert Sickgold, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School. This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience,” Sickgold told TheFix.com.

Cindy Oltmer, a residential therapist with  Nebrska-based Behavioral Health Specialists, has been using EMDR therapy to help clients for two years. It really helps move people into being able to function more effectively in their lives,” she told The Influence. “I’ve seen people who were struggling for many years who are so much more at peace because of it.”