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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a nontraditional type of psychotherapy. It's growing in popularity, particularly for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other types of traumas. PTSD often occurs after experiences such as military combat, physical assault, rape, sexual abuse, witnessing a death, or car accidents.


However, there are also less intense traumas that people experience throughout their lifetime, which can result in an anxiety disorder or a phobia but does not result in PTSD. For example, bullying and teasing, chronic parental neglect, verbal abuse, intense ongoing criticism throughout childhood, or a experiencing a sudden loss of a parent or significant relationship can all evolve in a person having panic attacks, avoidance response, or social panic or withdrawal. 

At first glance, EMDR appears to approach psychological issues in an unusual way. It does not rely on talk therapy or medication. Instead, EMDR uses a patient's own rapid, rhythmic eye movements to create a relaxation response, while working through their traumatic experience. These eye movements dampen the power of emotionally charged memories of past traumatic events. 

What Can You Expect From EMDR?

An EMDR treatment session can last up to 90 minutes. Your therapist will move their fingers back and forth in front of your face asking you to follow them with your eyes. Another approach is the therapist will set up a light bar in front of you line of sight that displays a light that moves from side to side that you follow with your eyes only, without moving your head. The EMDR therapist will have you recall a disturbing event. This will include the emotions and body sensations that go along with it.

Gradually, the therapist will guide you to shift your thoughts to more pleasant ones. Some therapists use alternatives to finger movements, such as hand or toe tapping or musical tones.

People who use the technique argue that EMDR can weaken the effect of negative emotions. Before and after each EMDR treatment, your therapist will ask you to rate your level of distress. The hope is that your disturbing memories will become less disabling.

EMDR is often used to treat many other psychological problems, which include:

  • Panic attacks

  • Eating disorders

  • Addictions

  • Anxiety, such as discomfort with public speaking or dental procedures

  • Depression

  • Phobias

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