Therapy Tuesday: EMDR – The Origins

EMDR therapy started in 1987 with Francine Shapiro. She observed a shift in reaction to distressing memories when certain eye movements were used. From there she developed what we know today as EMDR. (Again, EMDR is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.)

The first thing she was able to prove about this process was that while EMDR doesn’t provide coping skills and doesn’t eliminate the source of a trauma, it defuses the emotional response to that trauma. This is done by allowing the processing we can’t do at the point of a trauma. Regardless of what trauma we suffer, we’re caught up in the emotions, reactions, and even social stigma attached to it. Our brains store the memory incorrectly; without resolving anything about the event. This is why we encounter flashbacks.

What Shapiro found is that we can unpack that trauma, resolve the emotions around it, and find relief. It’s the same thing therapy had been trying to do for PTSD for ages. She just happened to link in the part about how the brain stores information, which wasn’t understood in previous decades.

Despite many studies supporting EMDR as a valid therapy and an effective treatment for PTSD, some still call it pseudoscience and compare it to hypnosis. The American Journal of Hypnosis already released a lengthy article explaining the differences and declaring EMDR was not a form of hypnosis, so there’s the end of that idea. In reviewing studies that attempt to disprove the effectiveness of EMDR, it is generally found that the studies weren’t well-conducted or that the researchers were working from a point of misunderstanding.

Once the treatment was proven and approved by the APA, training spread. It is fully recognized as one of the few effective treatments for PTSD and has become available in most regions of the US.

Next week I’ll get into how it works.

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