Q. In an earlier column you talked about a quick way to reduce the effects of trauma. You referred to it as EMDR. Can you tell me more about this and also what kinds of difficulties or trauma it’s good for? A. While we usually use this column as a way to answer questions about specific problems that readers (and our clients) present to us so much of our work uses the EMDR technique that we’re pleased to talk about it. The initials EMDR stand for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Quite a mouthful. (We prefer to simply refer to it as Desensitization and Reprocessing in our practice and you’ll see why in a minute). In the late 1980’s a Psychologist, Dr. Francine Shapiro discovered, purely by chance, that when she moved her eyes back and forth from side to side that some troubling memories began to change. Actually, the memory didn’t change but the emotions attached to it became far less intense. She was able to consider her problem without the intense feelings that she had been having. After studying this for a couple of years she developed a procedure which could be used to help her clients deal with a whole variety of problems. In particular, she showed that Viet Nam veterans who had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could be helped to overcome not only disturbing thoughts and memories about their war experiences but also to eliminate the flashbacks that made them feel as though they were in the middle of a battle zone again. Incredibly, this could sometimes be done in 2 or 3 sessions as opposed to the years of therapy that had been thought necessary up to that time. To date, about 30,000 health care providers have been trained to use the EMDR protocols and many of these professionals can be found at the scene of disasters all over the world – giving help and training local personnel to continue the work with victims and their families. In an EMDR session for relief from trauma the client is simply asked to pay close attention to a particular memory, to the feelings associated with that memory, and to any negative thoughts they might have about themselves or their ability to survive the event. Then, for a minute or two they are asked to follow the therapist’s hand or raised finger as it is moved back and forth in front of their eyes. Sometimes people are unable to focus on the therapist’s fingers or become dizzy and in that case sounds (finger snaps, recorded tones) are presented, first to one ear and then on the other; or the client’s knees can be tapped alternately. (This is why we drop the “Eye Movement” when we talk about the technique). In a very few moments there is usually a change in the impact of the trauma and after one or two sessions nearly every client reports significant relief. The technique has been modified so that it can be used with upsetting situations that are far less severe than battle, accidents, assaults, rapes, etc. A partial list includes phobias, panic attacks, performance anxiety, depression and addictions (drugs, smoking). It can also be used to help develop qualities such as selfesteem, assertiveness and general wellbeing. How does it work? Frankly, no one is certain but it does appear from various
brain and chemical studies that the backandforth stimulation affects our information processing abilities and helps the brain to sort out and process feelings attached to our memories and beliefs. You can get much more information from the EMDR International Association web site http://www.emdria.org . Thanks for asking.