It is not an acronym that rolls easily off the tongue, nor does the name of the treatment therapy for which it stands: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Lay people may never have heard of it. Yet EMDR is considered “a best-practices therapy for trauma,” according to John Conrad, LICSW, assistant director of AltaPointe’s BayView Professional Associates. Four BayView clinical team members have received EMDR training and are undergoing certification procedures.
“The military has been using it [EMDR] for quite a while for treatment of post traumatic stress disorder,” Conrad said. “People are beginning to hear about it; just yesterday, we had someone call to schedule an appointment with an EMDR therapist. Or someone may come in for his or her first appointment, and we’ll realize that the person may be a candidate for EMDR.”
What is the EMDR approach?
EMDR therapy is based on therapists’ understanding that when a person is very upset, his or her brain cannot process information normally, and an event can become “frozen in time,” according to Dr. Francine Shapiro, who in 1987 observed that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts. Today, she is among recognized experts and authors on the subject, and EMDR steadily has become recognized as an effective treatment for certain people who have experienced deeply disturbing events or issues.
At BayView, therapist Elizabeth Wood, Ph.D., said she has found the therapy helpful in relieving patients’ anxiety.
“It frees them to not carry such a burden of their trauma,” she said. “They learn to use coping skills so they don’t have to carry that burden with them every single day. We try to see what they can do to lower their distress levels.”
Though EMDR therapy initially incorporated mainly eye movements, it now includes other forms of stimulation such as knee tapping and foot-tapping, according to Wood, who added that “some people want the touch, the physical sensation of tapping.”
Why use EMDR therapy?
In a typical EMDR therapy session, the client may call to mind a disturbing issue or event ― what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., ― and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about the event. The therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain, while the client focuses on the disturbing material. Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about himself or herself.
“It can help the person reframe the trauma,” Wood said. “It can be used with somebody who hasn’t responded well to ‘talk therapies.’ We don’t push it on anybody, but we’ll sit down with them, explain what it is and how it might help.”
The goal, she said, is “for them to be able to move forward and move away from the trauma.”
BayView therapists initially attended two three-day sessions of intensive EMDR training, and as part of their certification will each log 50 hours of EMDR therapy.
Conrad said the decision to offer EMDR therapy is “very much in keeping” with AltaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger’s challenge for the staff to implement the profession’s “best practices” in patient care.