Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR stands for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing” and is a fairly new treatment for traumatic memories. To explain EMDR, it helps to explain what would bring a person to therapy after a trauma or loss. Although some people are able to work through a trauma or loss and come out stronger, others seem to get stuck. Along with getting stuck, comes a variety of distressing symptoms, which could include nightmares, depression, anxiety and other problems. A therapist can help you to get unstuck, and work through the memory piece by piece, until you are finally “over” it. Unfortunately, this process can take many months, and while most people get at least somewhat better, some of the problems can stubbornly hang on.

With EMDR the process seems to go much more quickly. The EMDR session itself is different for each person, but can be very emotionally intense. The patient is asked to concentrate on the worst part of the upsetting memory, while moving the eyes back and forth by following the therapist’s finger. It is actually a lot more complicated than that, which is why specialized EMDR training is very important. Often an upsetting memory can be worked through in one to three sessions. And the results seem to be more consistent, with symptoms usually completely disappearing.

Even though the treatment is fairly new, the research results are positive. The controlled studies have been showing that EMDR is really as good as it sounds, for working through a single traumatic memory. There is not enough research on other uses yet. Ricky Greenwald just co-authored a first controlled study using EMDR with children, which also had very good results in just one session.

Just remember that EMDR is just one tool to be used by a trained therapist. It is important to work with a therapist that you trust, who will know when to suggest EMDR and when to use other approaches.