EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – is a psychological method for treating experientially based disorders and emotional difficulties that are caused by disturbing life experiences, ranging from traumatic events such as combat stress, assaults, and natural disaster, to upsetting childhood events. EMDR is a complex method that brings together elements from well-established clinical theoretical orientations including psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and client-centered (Shapiro,2001).
EMDR entails an eight-phase approach guided by an information processing model that views pathology as based upon perceptual information that has been maladaptively stored. Consequently, EMDR treatment focuses on the perceptual components of the memory (affective, cognitive, and somatic) in order to expedite the accessing and processing of disturbing events and facilitate an attendant learning process. More specifically, EMDR aims to (i) facilitate resolution of memories of earlier life experiences (e.g., elicitation of insight, cognitive reorganization, adaptive affects, and physiological responses), (ii) desensitize stimuli that trigger present distress as a result of second-order conditioning, and (iii) incorporate adaptive attitudes, skills, and desired behaviors for enhanced future functioning.
In 1987, psychologist Francine Shapiro made the initial observation that led to the development of EMDR. She discovered that her voluntary eye movements reduced the intensity of negative, disturbing thoughts. Dr. Shapiro initiated a research study (Shapiro, 1989) examining the efficacy of EMDR in treating traumatized Vietnam combat veterans and victims of sexual assault. She asked her clients to attend to emotionally disturbing material while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus, in this case therapist-directed lateral eye movements (but other stimuli including hand tapping and audio stimulation are also often used). The results of this study showed that EMDR significantly reduced clients’ trauma symptoms.