Though it has now been in use for almost 10 years, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is getting a lot of attention as an exciting, new modality, for short-term psychotherapy because of the extensive research, in the last 5 years, that has proven it’s effectiveness. There are now  more controlled studies on EMDR effectiveness than on any other method used in the treatment of trauma relief. Designed originally to help relieve symptoms of P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), EMDR has also proven to be exceptionally useful in the treatment of self-esteem issues resulting from past and present life conditions, stop smoking programs, sexual dysfunctions, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety disorders, especially phobias.

EMDR was initially ridiculed because of the way a therapist waves their fingers in front of the eyes of a client, evoking comparisons to Mesmerism, popular in the 19th Century.  EMDR is in no way related to Mesmerism or any other form of hypnosis. It does not rely on a therapeutic trance state. It does utilize the natural healing abilities of our unconscious mind. If our brain was like a computer, this would be like the computer finding software that was corrupted or damaged and reprogramming the software all by itself.

We are just beginning to understand how the brain processes intense and/or painful events that occur in our lives. It is believed that when an intense single experience is overwhelming or when the cumulative effect of a recurring experience is overwhelming, there is a disruption of the brain’s ability to properly assimilate and understand the experience, causing a flaw in the belief system and emotions that underlie much of our personality and behavior.

The movement of our eyes back and forth manages to activate the neurophysiological mechanism responsible for processing our life  experiences and allows the memories, thoughts, and attached emotions to be reprocessed. This is the same system in the brain that looks at our life experiences and tries to make sense of them (process them) through dreams. It is no coincidence that while we are dreaming our eyes move rapidly back and forth. This is why deep sleep is also called REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).

The back and forth movement of the eyes is not critical to the success of triggering the brain’s ability to reprocess. With a 5 year old boy that couldn’t sit still for long, relief from  symptoms of P.T.S.D. was achieved in two visits by following him around the office, snapping fingers, alternating, near each ear.

With the therapeutic guidance of a trained EMDR clinician, clients begin to rethink and re-experience their world in new, more adaptive ways. Memories of childhood fears or abuse lose their emotional intensity. Persistent obsessions lose their importance. Images that triggered intense emotional responses become neutral. New behavior patterns become possible.  Hopelessness and frustration gives way to opportunity and change.

Because the treatment is effective almost immediately, EMDR has become the modality of choice for therapists dealing with trauma victims.  Anyone who has witnessed or been involved in a crime, auto accident, physical/sexual/marital abuse, dysfunctional childhood, or war atrocities can find themselves struggling with the emotions and memories of these tragedies at inopportune times. Maladaptive behaviors and defense mechanisms are the sign of the brain’s inability to properly come to terms with the experience.

Many other conditions can also be treated with EMDR by a therapist that understands the mechanisms by which it accesses and reprograms unconscious material.  We have been able to successfully treat bed wetting, addiction to cigarettes, chronic depression, many different phobias, and secondary sexual impotence. All using EMDR. Last year’s International Symposium on EMDR Treatment included many therapists that have found interesting and innovative ways to include EMDR protocols in the treatment of a wide variety of disorders.

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Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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