Dr. Francine Shapiro is the creator of EMDR. As the story goes, she was walking through a park mulling over thoughts and feelings she was having, when she happened to notice something odd. Whenever she was thinking through a thought that was particularly bothersome, her eyes would automatically move back and forth, and with the eye movement, her thought(s) would morph. Often she found that particularly difficult thoughts would lessen in intensity or even change. This moment in the park would lead her to develop and implement the process of EMDR.
The concept of the theory, very simply stated is, bi-lateral stimulation engages the brain in such a way it helps process information. Particularly difficult or traumatic information/memories which remain unresolved. By unresolved, I mean thoughts/memories an individual is unable to stop thinking about, has reoccurring nightmares about, or are triggered randomly by certain stimuli for example. The bi-lateral stimulation may be the eye movement itself, tapping, sound, or a combination. Techniques used may vary from therapist to therapist. My understanding is that the bi-lateral stimulation is similar to what happens naturally during REM sleep. It is known as a form of exposure therapy and is rooted in behavior therapy. It can assist individuals who suffer from anxiety, depression, panic, and grief. It is also known to work well with sexual abuse victims, rape victims, victims of crime, accident victims and combat veterans (Shapiro, 2001). It is not my intention to go into depth about how this process works but to just provide an introduction to the technique.
Although it appears to have been a highly controversial clinical technique from its inception, through the years of clinical trials and practice, a few entities have come forth to claim it is a successful technique. The American Psychiatric Association along with both the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense have supported the technique. It is important to know that this technique is not a once size fits all approach, and it does not work for everyone. This is probably true for most types of therapy. However, as a fellow classmate happily exclaimed when I asked my professor if this technique truly worked for people when it works it really works! Since finding out about this technique I have spoken to a handful of other people who have had direct experience with it, for whom it has also worked.
Of course, curiosity got the best of me, and I have decided to try EMDR for myself. Unfortunately, throughout my life, I have experienced a fair amount of traumatic experiences. The experiences that haunt me the most come from my time in survival school with the USAF and the passing of both of my parents just a year apart in 2008 and 2009. I have only been through two sessions, so I do not have much to report as of yet. My therapist and I have decided on a starting place, which was a particularly tragic event in survival school. While there were a handful of such events that were possibly equally traumatic, this particular event stood out to my therapist the most. We have also established a “safe place,” meant to help me as I move through the therapeutic process. A safe place, the way I understand it, is a place that you can call to mind that makes you feel happy and safe. For me, at this time, that place is in the living room of my home with my two Jack Russell Terriers cuddled up with me. Which is where I sit now as I write.
As I move forward through the process, I will update my blog with what I have learned, and what I have experienced. I expect that this will be hard work, as has been my experience with therapy so far. However, I am also hoping I will be one of those people it works for.
If you want more in-depth technical information on what EMDR is, I would suggest starting out with http://www.emdr.com.