Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new form of psychotherapy. It was first conceived of in 1987 by the American psychotherapist Francine Shapiro, who came up with the idea while attempting to clear troubling thoughts from her mind while walking in a park. This initial inkling lead to an industry whitepaper in 1989 which described the finished method.

EMDR is a non-invasive, holistic approach to psychotherapy, and it is most often employed for use in treating sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress-related afflictions. Despite glowing reviews from practitioners of EMDR and patients who have received it as a part of their therapy, there is a sizable portion of skeptics in the psychotherapy industry who consider it a pseudoscience at best (and quackery at worst) because its effectiveness, or lack thereof, cannot be medically or scientifically proven or disproven. Regardless, its use on PTSD sufferers since 1989 has produced a number of satisfied therapy patients, and a growing number of doctors who practice it.

Basically, what it involves is this: an EMDR practitioner (usually a psychologist) will start a session by getting the patient to explain various traumas she or he has experienced, either recently or in the distant past. Then a trigger is worked out for what might have caused the trauma. Next, the practitioner will have the patient come up with a "safe place," i.e. some memory in which they are happy and/or free of worry or stress. The practitioner then tells the patient to concentrate on the traumatic event. While the patient is concentrating, the practitioner moves her or his hand back and forth across the patient's field of vision for about fifteen seconds (though no touching is involved), and the patient's eyes are meant to follow the movements of the therapist's hand; this is meant to simulate REM sleep. Following each bout of hand-waving, the patient is asked how they feel. Some report sudden pain in random areas of the body, nausea, heavy emotional states with weeping, or dizziness; this is, ostensibly, the brain reprocessing the traumatic memory and directing it out of of the "bad memories" section of the subconscious and into other parts of the body. The hand-waving continues, after short breaks in between, until the patient feels better about whatever is troubling her or him. Most sessions concentrate on a single traumatic event, and to that end a single session will last from thirty to sixty minutes, depending on the patient. If the memory of trauma becomes too much to bear, the therapist will guide the patient into the "safe place" and let them linger in it for a while, until the patient is ready to continue.

The patient is also asked to rank, on a scale of one to ten, how uncertain/afraid/apprehensive they are about the given trauma before and after each EMDR session. The goal is to reduce the rank numbers with each hand-waving venture, until it's dropped in number enough so that the patient feels better about their trauma. Over the next several therapy sessions, usually a week or two apart, other traumas are given the EMDR treatment, if desired by the patient.

The main purpose of EMDR is to get people to feel better about bad things that have happened in their pasts, and to prepare them against similar situations that might occur in the future.

I have undergone EMDR, to treat PTSD, and I can attest that it does indeed work as advertised (at least it did on me; YMMV). My therapist wrote her Ph.D dissertation on EMDR and its effects, in spite of its reputation in some circles. EMDR worked wonders on how I cope with my memories of Hurricane Katrina. I went into the session with only a rudimentary knowledge of EMDR, but I came out feeling calm, collected, and feeling good for the first time since before the hurricane.

Despite any preconceptions you may have about holistic healing, my advice would be to avoid knocking it until you try it. PTSD is nothing to take lightly, and any little bit towards feeling normal again should be welcomed, however it is attained.

 

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_Movement_Desensitisation_and_Reprocessing
http://www.emdr.com/
http://www.emdria.org/
http://www.srmhp.org/archives/emdr.html (skepticism about EMDR)

I'm by no means expert on EMDR -- I had my first session yesterday. However, I've got to say that, for me at least, it did something. After leaving the session, I had to drive an hour home, and started getting so tired (at 1 o'clock in the afternoon) that I thought I was going to have to pull over. When I got home, I slept for an hour and could have slept longer ... which is really surprising, because for the past 2 months, I've not been able to sleep at all without medication.

I think I feel somewhat better than I did. The EMDR process uncovered a lot of trauma in my past, going far beyond the immediate issue (my wife abandoning me and our four children in the middle of the night.) And, for reasons I can't explain, I feel better. Not "happy", by any means, but better, more in control, more relaxed.

So, give it a try, and don't let the naysayers scare you off. If it doesn't work, you're out an hour of your time plus whatever you pay for the session. If it does work for you, you might well save yourself years of pain and suffering.

I'm scheduled for more sessions, so I'll post further updates once I know more.

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