In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically, and in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma. EMDR evolved into standardized protocols that incorporate elements from many different treatment approaches. EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information in a way similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

Approximately 20 controlled studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the anxiety symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. EMDR is designated as an effective treatment for PTSD by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the United Kingdom Dept. of Health and many other international associations.

During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session. The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event while the therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain. Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs. During EMDR the client may experience intense emotions but by the end of the session, most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance. This improvement has been shown to hold up over time.

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