The Austin Chronicle

What is EMDR?

By Jerry Renshaw, July 27, 2001, Music

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming, was developed in the late Eighties on the principle that the brain processes the day's events through Rapid Eye Movement sleep and dreams. Dreams are considered a self-healing mechanism for the psyche, much the same as the body's ways of combating infections or wounds.

After a traumatic event, however, the brain's coping mechanisms are scrambled. Often the client's thought processes are "frozen" on the event, and the client relives the trauma over and over again every day. It was strictly a chance discovery that, under certain circumstances, eye movement can alleviate the emotional turmoil that goes along with the aftermath of trauma.

Clinical trials have since demonstrated that EMDR can, in a few sessions, accomplish what often takes years of conventional psychotherapy without delving into decades-old psychological issues. It's still not fully understood what happens to the brain's physiology and chemistry during EMDR, except that it's a way of reshaping the manner in which the brain sorts through the information that goes along with a traumatic event.

The sessions themselves consist of asking patients to concentrate on a specific thought or feeling that goes along with the traumatic event. The therapist then has the client focus his or her eyes on an object and follow it as it moves back and forth, while continuing to concentrate on the disturbing material and allowing a free flow of thoughts.

In this EMDR has similarities to hypnotherapy, except that the client is fully awake and aware of what's going on and never goes into a trance state. EMDR has shown remarkable results with those who have been through combat, childhood trauma, sexual abuse, natural disasters, car wrecks, etc. and has even shown to be useful in cases of asthma, anxiety, self-esteem issues, and addictions.

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