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How Does EMDR Work?


EMDR uses a structured eight-phase approach and addresses the past, present, and future aspects of the dysfunctionally stored memory. During the processing phases of EMDR, the client attends to the disturbing memory in multiple brief sets of about 1530 seconds, while simultaneously focusing on the dual attention stimulus (e.g., therapist-directed lateral eye movement, alternate hand-tapping, or bilateral auditory tones). Following each set of such dual attention, the client is asked what associative information was elicited during the procedure. This new material usually becomes the focus of the next set. This process of alternating dual attention and personal association is repeated many times during the session.

EMDR's most unique aspect is the component of bilateral stimulation of the brain, using , bilateral sound, or bilateral tactile stimulation coupled with cognitions, visualised images and body sensation. EMDR also utilises dual attention awareness to allow the individual to move between the traumatic material and the safety of the present moment. This prevents re-traumatisation from exposure to the disturbing memory.

The theory underlying EMDR treatment is that it works by helping the sufferer process distressing memories more fully which reduces the distress. EMDR is based on a theoretical information processing model which states that symptoms arise when events are inadequately processed, and can be eradicated when the memory is fully processed. EMDR works directly with memory networks and enhances information processing by creating associations between the distressing memory and more adaptive information contained in other memory networks. That is, the distressing memory is transformed when new connections are established with more positive and realistic information. This results in a transformation of the emotional, sensory, and cognitive components of the memory so that, when it is accessed, the individual is no longer distressed. Instead s/he recalls the incident with a new perspective, new insight, resolution of the cognitive distortions, elimination of emotional distress, and relief of related physiological arousal.

What part does eye movement play in this therapy?
Recent studies have examined the effects of eye movement and have found that eye movement in EMDR decreases the vividness and/or negative emotions associated with autobioraphical memories , enhance the retrieval of memories, and increases cognitive flexibility (i.e., more helpful patterns of thinking). Eye movement has also been found to produce a physiological relaxation effect.

Although a wide range of researchers have proposed various models and theories to explain the effect of eye movement, and the possible role that eye movement may play in the process of EMDR, to date, there is no definitive explanation as to how EMDR works. There is some empirical support for three explanations regarding how an external stimulus such as eye movement can facilitate the processing of traumatic memories.

For more on this see EMDR FAQs: How can an external stimulus such as eye movement facilitate the processing of traumatic memories?

What is EMDR?
What Does EMDR Help With?
Frequently Asked Questions About EMDR.



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