Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, also known by its abbreviation EMDR, claims to relieve the symptoms of Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems using (in its original form) only movements of the eyes similar to those which occur naturally in REM sleep.
It was invented by American Francine Shapiro in 1987 after she observed the way she had been able to banish disturbing thoughts from her own mind while walking in a park. She developed and refined these observations and published a paper in 1989 describing beneficial results in a number of case studies.
The therapy originally consisted of the patient being guided by the therapist in moving their eyes in a random way whilst thinking about their ‘problem'. In the relatively short time of a few minutes the feelings may begin to shift and resolve themselves.
The claimed speed of the therapy and lack of necessary skilled input from the practitioner has led to strong criticism of the approach from some in the psychotherapeutic and psychiatric establishment. The practice also lacks a convincing explanation as to how it works.
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Nevertheless extensive studies have repeatedly shown it to be as good as other non-specific treatments, yet lacking the long-term effectiveness of empirically-supported and specific treatments for PTSD (such as well-practiced Cognitive Behaviour Therapy; e.g., Devilly & Spence, 19991; Taylor et al., 2004).
Later developments have removed the focus on the eyes and used a number of other bilateral stimuli such as sound and touch, or dual attention stimuli to bring about the effect. Its use has also been extended to include a wide range of conditions. In light of the shifting and widening claims, the technique has more recently been lampooned (see Sudotherapay) and some claim that the technique is non-falsifiable and hence should not be credited with scientific status.
However, Dr. Shapiro has been given an award for Distinguished Scientific Achievement in Psychology by the California Psychological Association and in 2002 the International Sigmund Freud Award for Psychotherapy presented by the City of Vienna in conjunction with the World Council for Psychotherapy.
Devilly, G.J., & Spence, S.H. (1999). The relative efficacy and treatment distress of EMDR and a cognitive behavioral trauma treatment protocol in the amelioration of post traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 13, 131–157.
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