Phil Littman, Therapy Phil Littman, LCSW
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EMDR (Eye movement desensitization reprocessing) is a highly efficient procedure that respresents a state of the art psychotherapeutic modality. Since its creation in 1989 by its founder,  Francine Shapiro, PhD.  It has been used successfully with an estimated 2 million clients. EMDR has been researched extensively, and  currently sanctioned as effective by the American Psychiatric Association in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   EMDR has been adopted and developed worldwide with the use of standard protocols that have lead to remarkably consistent successful outcomes.   It has also been found useful in a variety of treatment problems and integrated well with different treatment approaches.  EMDR has been helpful with such situations as:

Unresolved memories                                     Panic attacks
Personality disorders                                       Phobias
Addictions                                                      Performance Anxiety and Enhancement
Disassociative disorders                                  Sexual/physical abuse
Eating Disorders                                             Relationship problems
Stress Reduction                                             Loss and Grief

 

            EMDR works by processing  memories that remain charged because the brain has been unable to go through its normal phsyiological process of shifting memories to a neutral state.  One example of typical processing of a charged memory might be stubbing your toe on a piece of furniture.  Initially, you could likely feel pain and upset at the moment of the toe being stubbed.   You’d likely go about your day and wake up the following morning.  Looking at the toe you might still feel pain, but the upset would be gone.  That night, assuming you got normal sleep you would have gone through rapid eye movement sleep, the movement of your eyes back forth as you dream.  This creates electrical activity back and forth across the right and left hemisphere of your brain—somewhat like a windshield wiper effect.  This process is called bilateral stimulation.
            In certain events that occur either as a single acute experience (e.g. a car accident, sexual assault, or possibly an experience during a war) or as prolonged repeated anxiety related situations  (e.g. parents arguing throughout childhood,  continued harassment in the workplace, or the loss of a business over time)  the brain’s capacity to metabolize the memories can fail.   This often leads a person’s memories to stay charged, thus repeating the experience internally when triggered by similar associated events, which effects their functioning.   The classic example of this is the soldier home from a war in which he has been shot at; as he walks down the street and hears a car backfire he instinctively jumps for cover, reacting as if it were gunfire.  
            The application of EMDR is design to target unprocessed memories while the client receives bilateral stimulation.  This can be done through eye movements, tactile stimulation, auditory stimulation or a combination of these modalities.   The client is asked to call up the disturbing event and simply notice their responses without any attempt to control the direction of their attention.   As sets of bilateral stimulation are applied, the level of disturbance with the event reduces and is eliminated in the process.  In addition, the client reframes their attitudes about the event and a future preferred way of responding to similar circumstances is installed for the client.  

            EMDR can be used as the sole focus of therapy,  in conjunction with other psychotherapy practices,  or as an adjunct to therapy provided by another therapist. The process usually involves one or two sessions for the client and therapist to determine the appropriateness of EMDR for their situation.   Sessions typically last from 60 minutes to 90 minutes.  The length of the therapy will vary according to type of problem, the client’s current circumstances, and the amount of trauma a person has experienced in their lifetime.  A significant advantage to using EMDR is that the process desensitizes networks of memories in the brain making it unnecessary to have every memory recalled in order to get resolution.