Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy developed by Dr Francine Shapiro in 1989. EMDR therapy is used to help people that are suffering due to past traumatic experiences. No matter how much time has passed since the trauma took place, it may still come hurtling back, forcing its way into your conscious mind, making you feel as if it is happening all over again. Whether you suffer the experience in the form of a nightmare or a waking event, your mind may still be overwhelmed. Physical symptoms may also occur.
These dormant memories are stored within the brain and are accessed each and every time something occurs to trigger your recollection of the actual event. Whilst Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) counsellors cannot remove the distressing memory, they can alter the way that it is stored within the brain. This way, you will not suffer so much when the memory surfaces. When upsetting events occur, your body’s inbuilt cognitive and neurological mechanisms that help you to cope are overwhelmed and so deal with the memory in isolation.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing or EMDR is a type of therapy which can help resolve the symptoms of trauma and other past disturbing experiences. It was first discovered by American Psychologist and Educator, Dr. Francine Shapiro.
The discovery was in fact a chance observation for Shapiro, when taking a walk in the park in 1987.
“I noticed that disturbing thoughts I had been having had disappeared and when I brought them back, they didn’t have the same “charge”. I was puzzled since I hadn’t done anything deliberately to deal with them.” Explained Shapiro in an interview with Margarita Tartakovsky for PsychCentral.
Shapiro tried to work out, systematically, what it was that had caused the thoughts to suddenly disappear. She gradually noticed that each time a traumatic thought emerged, certain rapid eye movements seemed to push the thoughts out of her conscious mind. When she brought the thoughts back, the experience of them was less intense.
Shapiro decided to explore this observation further. She recruited an initial group of 70 volunteer participants to test her developing theory in a randomized trial. The experiment contained additional methods to help achieve consistent results. The trial was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress (1989) and since then, Shapiro has continued to meticulously develop her theory, publishing a book on EMDR therapy in 1998 and training new clinicians and practitioners in complex and specific EMDR techniques.
Shapiro proposes the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model which underpins the EMDR methodology. AIP translates to the creation of new life experiences, which integrate in to stored memory pathways.
Usually, we process memories based on past experience as well as the sense we make of the world around us. If these memories are in any way disturbing or traumatic, the memory is conserved in a ‘frozen’ manner. It is not stored in an adaptive or integrative way. These traumatic memories fail to consolidate into a person’s new life experiences and internal concept of the self.
Shapiro first showed success using EMDR with individuals suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A common trait in PTSD is that individuals can vividly reexperience the traumatic events as if it were happening to them all over again, in the present. This often leads to heightened sensitivity / arousal and avoidance of anything that could trigger a re-experiencing of the episode. Thus, there is often an inability to reduce the traumatic memory in any way.
Using ‘dual attention’ the traumatic memory is recalled, while still holding oneself in the now. This allows improved accessibility to the defective memory, and in turn helps to activate the elemental process triggering the transformation of the memory into a newly adaptive formula.
Once this transformation is complete, all information is thus combined and memory networks are now able to consolidate with new information. Such a process significantly reduces the effects of physical and emotional experiences related to the traumatic event.
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