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Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed to resolve symptoms resulting from disturbing and unresolved life experiences. It uses a structured approach to address past, present, and future aspects of disturbing memories. The approach was developed by Francine Shapiro[1] to resolve the development of trauma-related disorders as resulting from exposure to a traumatic or distressing event, such as rape or military combat. Clinical trials have been conducted to assess EMDR's efficacy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In some studies it has been shown to be equivalent to cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapies, and more effective than some alternative treatments (see effectiveness sections below). Although some clinicians may use EMDR for various problems, its research support is primarily for disorders stemming from distressing life experiences.

EMDR's most unique aspect is an unusual component of bilateral stimulation of the brain, such as eye movements, bilateral sound, or bilateral tactile stimulation coupled with cognitions, visualized images and body sensation. EMDR also utilizes dual attention awareness to allow the individual to vacillate between the traumatic material and the safety of the present moment. This prevents retraumatization from exposure to the disturbing memory. As EMDR is an integrative therapy which combines elements of cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic therapies to desensitize traumatic memories, some individuals have criticized EMDR and consider the use of eye movements to be an unnecessary component of treatment. However, recent studies have examined the effects of eye movements and have found that eye movements in EMDR decrease the vividness and/or negative emotions associated with autobiographical memories, enhance the retrieval of episodic memories, increase cognitive flexibility, and correlate with decreases in heart rate, skin conductance, and an increased finger temperature. These physiological changes associated with EMDR are consistent with earlier research on physiological changes associated with EMDR.

You may be entering therapy for the first time and not have a sense of what needs to happen other than you want to feel better. It is important to express this as well. Here is a list of what we have seen to be true for many people about therapy:

  • It takes time to establish a trusting relationship with a therapist.
  • It is important to go at your own pace and not overwhelm yourself.
  • We all resist change. Don't be surprised if you are tempted to quit right before some real changes or breakthroughs are about to happen.
  • Becoming more healthy and balanced can feel very unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first.
  • Being committed to therapy will change your life. Be prepared to feel some loss from this.
  • Others may resist your changes and growth and will need time to adapt.
  • Therapy is hard work.
  • Your therapist is not perfect and will make mistakes. Hopefully he or she will acknowledge and take responsibility for those mistakes.
  • Some therapy is short term (usually focusing on one issue and situational) and other therapy may be longer term (more than one or complex issues.)
  • Expect your therapist to have good boundaries, avoid dual relationships, be ethical, and treat you with respect. If not, find another therapist.

Remember that therapy, in the hands of a skilled therapist, is a powerful and life-changing experience.It has been shown to be effective for a variety of illnesses and problems. If you need therapy and work as an active participant in your own treatment, you can expect it will be well worth the time and money you invest.

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