The Development of EMDR


EMDR was discovered and developed by Dr Francine Shapiro (USA). She describes walking in a park and being troubled by upsetting thoughts. She noticed that her eyes were spontaneously moving horizontally back and forth in what are called saccadic eye movements. After this occurred she felt better. She began to incorporate eye movements into some of her therapeutic techniques with encouraging results. She began to use them more systematically in a formal research trial with 22 people, who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following exposure to traumatic events. The results of this study were published in 1989 and indicated that EMDR was a rapid and effective ‘therapy’ that could “completely desensitise subjects’ traumatic memories and dramatically alter their self-destructive beliefs”.


EMDR has grown rapidly since this time and well over 600 British clinicians have now been officially trained. Research has continued to demonstrate its effectiveness and it is has been extended and used successfully for many anxiety-based problems, and most problems that have their basis in emotional trauma in early years.


How does EMDR work?


Information reprocessing appears to be a major element of the process. One hypothesis is that when upsetting events occur, the normal information-processing system becomes imbalanced or blocked – rather like a record player needle that has become stuck in the groove. The mind goes over and over the same event, replaying it without it resulting in information processing so that things can move on. It is believed that this is what may be happening when an individual experiences ‘flashbacks’.


There is some evidence that the eye movements perform a similar function to those that occur during REM sleep. That is, when we dream, which we already know to have a vital information-processing function. The eye movements used in EMDR appear to stimulate the person’s information processing ability when it has got stuck through trauma. Research is currently being conducted to provide more concrete answers. EMDR is not like hypnosis as no trance state is induced, no suggestions are made – you are in control of the process.