Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: A Unique Approach to Psychotherapy

by Cynthia T. McCoy

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has become an effective treatment method in psychotherapy. Discovered in 1987 by California psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR is an integrative treatment technique with eight phases that consist of a comprehensive psychotherapy regimen guided by the adaptive information-processing model of learning.

The common assumption in the psychology realm is that all humans possess an information-processing system that takes experiences, including bad ones, and stores these as memories in a way that they are easily accessible and linked to a network of accompanying images, sensations, emotions and beliefs. EMDR provides a method to access those memories and revisit the interpretation of them to reduce stress and improve perspective.

Shapiro discovered one day while walking through a park that moving her eyes while thinking about threatening experiences helped her to decrease the negative symptoms associated with the stressful events. She further investigated her discovery, and over time, her research concluded that EMDR might be applied to disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, EMDR is more than just moving fingers in front of someone’s eyes or tapping on a person’s knees. It integrates elements from other psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential and body-centered therapies. EMDR-trained therapists utilize this psychotherapy approach in their office usually by sitting across from their client, helping him or her to process disturbing life experiences that contribute to clinical problems and health, without re-traumatizing the client. EMDR is typically most beneficial when conducted over several sessions, with each session usually taking up to an hour.

According to the EMDR Institute’s training course, the EMDR approach to psychotherapy’s goal is to achieve effective treatment while ensuring client safety in order to achieve an appropriate and adaptive ecological resolution of presenting problems. The process then incorporates new skills, behaviors and beliefs about the self, thereby optimizing the client’s capacity to respond adaptively in the current context of his or her life.

EMDR was recommended as effective in the treatment of trauma, as stated by the American Psychiatric Association. The Department of Veterans Affairs “strongly recommends” EMDR for the treatment of PTSD in both military and nonmilitary populations. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR were stated to be empirically supported treatments of choice for adult PTSD, according to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Today, EMDR has since been extended by therapists to be used with a host of other conditions, including depression, anxiety, various forms of trauma, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders and psychological distress generated by such health conditions as cancer.

Cynthia T. McCoy is a practicing licensed professional counselor trained in Level I and II EMDR. She is the founder of Emotional Wellness Counseling PLLC, located at 3140 W. Britton Rd., Ste. 200, in Oklahoma City. For more information, call 405-314-0817 or visit ewcOKC.com.

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