Imagine walking through a park and having a revelation that would literally change peoples lives forever. In 1987 this is how Francine Shapiro created a life altering therapy now referred to as EMDR. She was strolling through a park when she suddenly realized that eye movements seemed to decrease negative and intrusive emotions that correlated with her traumatic memories. Who would have thought that rapid eye movement could quiet racing thoughts and have such an impact on our psyche. Soon after this discovery, she started experimenting and assessing others while using the same technique, and realized they too had the same result. Shapiro has stated, “a single session of the procedure was sufficient to desensitize subjects’ traumatic memories, as well as dramatically alter their cognitive assessments”
As time passed Shapiro continued to expand on this idea and molded it based on feedback from clients and peers. Initially it was just EMD, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization, but as her clinical journey progressed she added on the “R” which stands for reprocessing. This was instrumental in doing so, because EMDR literally assists in reprocessing your brain. This method has been known to treat PTSD, depression, sexual dysfunction, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and many other psychological distressors.
So how does it work? To start, let's just state the obvious, we all have unprocessed memories. The question is whether or not those memories affect your quality of life. Not everyone is going to feel like they need assistance like EMDR therapy, but I guarantee that all would probably benefit from it in some capacity. With that, the treatment involves procedures focusing simultaneously on unconstrained traumatic images, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations and bilateral stimulation with rapid eye movement. An example of an EMDR session would be where a therapist asks their client to hold the memories of anxiety-provoking stimuli such as painful memories of a frightening accident in their minds. While the client is thinking of said memory they concurrently track the therapist's back-and-forth finger movements with their eyes, much like a person following a hypnotist's pocket watch. EMDR has incited an array of explanations for the obvious effectiveness of the lateral eye movements: distraction, relaxation, synchronization of the brain's two hemispheres, and simulation of the eye movements of rapid eye movement all seem to work together in harmony to produce successful client results. It seems EMDR’s true purpose is to learn how to balance both your left and right side of the brain so they can work together as a team in equal parts. This promotes a healthy mindset where you don’t necessarily forget that a trauma, occurrence, or feeling existed but instead equips you with the tools to live a productive and healthy life without being controlled by the memory and pain. This may sound bizarre to some, but it has been scientifically proven time and time again to not only change lives, but result in long term changes. It’s certainly not a quick fix, but can be a permanent one. Meaning, you put in the work and the result is a complete transformation from being controlled by hurt, guilt, shame, uncontrolled thoughts, anxiety, insomnia, etc… to feeling pure relief. That way you can live a life of peace paired with logic and the capability to analyze your thoughts and balance them by recognizing which ones are healthy and logical versus ones that are harmful and distressing. Doesn’t that kind of freedom sound amazing!?
I have personally decided to dive into this therapy myself, however, I am new at this so I can’t personally give a testimony myself yet. I can, however, share testimonies of others. Here are some direct quotes from those who have benefited from this extraordinary treatment:
“I never thought I'd be well. I was taking multiple medications, but after EMDR therapy, I only have one medication on hand for emergencies only. It didn't take away my trauma, but it taught me how to process it and look at it differently."
“After working EMDR for over a year, I can safely say our work together has completely changed my life. There was a point during therapy when it seemed progress wasn’t going to happen and then suddenly there was the biggest shift. A dark cloud that was looming over me was lifted and I now feel aligned with my true self. The positive changes to my life have not gone away.”
“When I first started (for help dealing with PTSD after being sexually assaulted) I wasn’t sure if EMDR would help with the constant confusion, isolation, and anxiety I was feeling. I was also worried because, prior to the sessions, it was very difficult to talk about the event. After nearly a year of working with my therapist, I am amazed at the inner transformation.”
“It was a relief to be able to tell someone in detail what happened. I just had to go over what happened from beginning to end, with a beeping sound in my ears and buzzing remotes in my hands. I can’t explain it, but somehow that night (the attacks) became less scary and less real, until eventually it became something that just happened a long time ago. I could go to sleep and not be scared of being shot. I went to visit my old neighbor and my flat, and it felt like somewhere I used to live, but with no negative feelings attached to it.”
“EMDR helped me to safely access memories that had been frozen for years. By retrieving and reinterpreting these memories, I was able to process and heal some pretty deep psychic wounds. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it has been life-changing.”
Dr. Francine Shapiro has come a long way since that epiphany in the park. She has authored many book and is also a Senior Research Fellow Emeritus at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, Executive Director of the EMDR Institute in Watsonville, CA, and founder and President Emeritus of the Trauma Recovery EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs, a non-profit organization that coordinates disaster response and low fee trainings worldwide. It is estimated that more than 60,000 clinicians have undergone formal training in EMDR and the number of people it has helped is well in the millions. It is hard to turn a blind eye to something that has been proven to literally work miracles in people's lives.
Bluntly speaking, we are a world of quick fixes. This is why the pharmaceutical industry thrives the way it does. “Pop this pill and you’ll feel instant relief.” This is also why addiction is at an all time high, but I’ll save that for another blog. While working as a nurse in a psychiatric unit I have seen the severity of people who are ill-equipped to function without medication. It’s a real thing and I don’t deny that, but that it is absolutely the exception. EMDR is just one of many holistic methods out there that can positively alter our mental state. Prayer, meditation, exercise, healthy eating, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Talk Therapy, vitamins, and daily exposure to the sun are just a few of many ways to promote a healthy lifestyle. It just simply takes work. Realize this, temporary fixes will always equal temporary results, but true effort and dedication will equal long term results. I hope if you find yourself suffering in any way that you read these blogs and see there is help, hope, and healing accessible to you. Suffering is a part of life, but so is happiness! Work towards a quality life and not one of simply existing. Find your peace. Find your joy. Find your purpose. Then go out and help others find theirs too. If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Francine Shapiro and EMDR therapy you can click on the link below.