Developed by Francine Shapiro, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy was originally developed for individuals with complex histories of trauma and PTSD (Shapiro, 2018). We are now seeing, however, that EMDR is effective in treating many different presenting problems including depression, anxiety, addictions, grief/loss, and more.
When we experience a negative or traumatic event in our lives, this event is stored in the right hemisphere of our brain (note: “trauma” is not necessarily a life-threatening event but is any threat that we are not prepared to handle). During our deep sleep, also known as REM sleep, the back-and-fourth movements that our eyes make are thought to be ‘processing’ these experiences into our long-term memory. By processing this event, our mind takes away all the lessons it needs to learn from the negative experience so that we can prevent it from happening to us again. Sometimes, however, if the experience was particularly difficult for us, our mind has difficulty processing it and it stays ‘stuck’ in our right hemisphere. To our body, this experience is not in the past yet and can cause emotional reactions and disturbances just by us thinking about it.
EMDR therapy looks at these ‘stuck’ experiences and does a few things with them. Firstly, it ‘desensitizes’ by stripping away the associated negative feeling and negative self-belief that we have attached to that experience. EMDR therapy then reprocesses that experience, replacing those negative beliefs with more realistic, positive ones. At the end of the EMDR therapy, the memory of the experience is not altered at all but rather, the emotional flooding is no longer present when thinking of that difficult experience.
EMDR therapy has proven to be effective in a much shorter time period than many other talk-therapies (as discussed in Shapiro, 2018). Also, it is a therapeutic approach that holds the assumption that the body knows what it needs to do in order to heal and effectively process these stuck experience. The EMDR therapist does not overly-participate in the client’s healing but rather supports the client as they allow their mind to accomplish what it already knows how to do. Because of the mind’s innate ability to process experiences, the client does not need to narrate the traumatic experience or go into any detail about what is arising during therapy. Rather, it is a personal experience, ideal for clients who find it difficult to discuss certain events in their lives.
EMDR therapy can be successfully used with children (as young as two years old), adolescents, and adults. EMDR therapy has demonstrated its effectiveness when working with the following challenges:
Only an EMDR-Canada certified trained clinician can ethically provide clients with EMDR therapy. MRC Counselling does provide EMDR therapy as its clinical director, Michaela Clermont, is EMDR trained. Michaela has also received training in working with children using EMDR therapy. Contact her for more information.
British Columbia School of Professional Psychology (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Manual for Intensive Training. Vancouver: University of BC.
Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (3rd ed.). New York;, NY: Guildford Press.