What is EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is an evidence-based integrative psychotherapy treatment method that was developed by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro, in the 1980s.

It is used for helping people who suffer from trauma, anxiety, panic, depression, disturbing memories, post-traumatic stress and many other emotional problems. Until recently it was believed that memories arising from past traumas and adverse life experiences remain forever stored in the brain with their accompanying painful emotions and other disturbing symptoms.

EMDR Therapy draws upon many of the recent developments in the neurosciences including the discovery of neuroplasticity which emphasises the capacity of the brain to change and heal. EMDR therapy facilitates focused access to the painful memories encoded in their isolated neural networks.

Through a standardized set of procedures and clinical protocols, which incorporates dual focus of attention and alternating bilateral stimulation, it activates the components of the memory of disturbing life events and facilitates their dynamic linkage to adaptive neural networks thus effecting resolution and integration. As of 2013, EMDR is promoted as a therapy of choice by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children, adolescents, and adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

EMDR Therapy Research

“EMDR therapy has a substantial research base, and more than three dozen randomized controlled studies have evaluated EMDR therapy for the treatment of trauma. Lists of these studies, evaluated clinical applications and research regarding the eye movements are available to view online and download.” (EMDR Research foundation February 2018 – http://emdrresearchfoundation.org/emdr-info/research-lists/)

The listed studies are organised in their relevant clinical and research categories:

Adult PTSD and Trauma RCTs

Child PTSD and Trauma RCTs

Component Analyses RCTs

Randomized Studies of Hypotheses Regarding Eye Movements

Evaluated Clinical Applications

The EMDR Research Foundation in its Research Lists also provides a list of international practice guidelines that have given EMDR therapy the highest level of the recommendation. These are

  • World Health Organization (WHO, 2013)
  • International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS, 2009)
  • Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC, 2007, 2013)
  • UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE, 2005)
  • Haute Autorité de la Santé (France) (2007)
  • Association of the Scientific Medical Societies in Germany (2011)
  • Dutch National Steering Committee Guidelines Mental Health Care (2013)

Recommended Readings 

Shapiro, F. (2017) 3rd Edition, Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols and procedures. New York: Guildford Press

Shapiro, F. (2013) Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy. New York: Rodale.

Leeds, A. (2016) 2nd Edition. A guide to the standard EMDR protocols for clinicians, supervisors and consultants. New York: Springer Press.

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