What Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy?


What is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy?


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[Lt. Col. Jeffrey Yarvis] There's an evidence-based therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing that was established by a scientist practitioner named Francine Shapiro. And it's one of the evidence-based therapies that the military will allow providers to get trained on. They will say that it's a standalone method. I actually think it's a nice amalgam of other therapies. You have some forms of biofeedback where you're looking at the provider, and they use a finger and you'll move your finger back and forth and replicate eye movements between the sentences of the presentation of the trauma. So if you had a trauma story or narrative to tell, I will stop you between each sentence and do a series of eye movements. One of the reasons why it works is because we're slowing you down, and so for an anxious person to slow down is very powerful. There's also a theory that these eye movements in a safe environment might help you actually undo the impact of the trauma itself because when people are traumatized, often they will have rapid eye movement, and during hypnosis, people will have rapid eye movement. There's some connection— we're not sure exactly what— between eye movements and maybe the recording of trauma. So there's this idea that if you replicate that in therapy, you can undo the ill effects of that. There's been very good research on the therapy itself, apart from the eye movement piece, that shows that doing this therapy has good outcomes. You can restore—you can reduce the ill effects of PTSD. The EMDR community has done a really nice job with their research on this. What I personally like about it— and I don't use it as often as some of the other therapies that I've talked about— but what I like about it is that it's a tangible therapy. For soldiers who are like, "You know, I just don't embrace this whole hypnosis thing," although I think EMDR is even a mild form of that, they would say otherwise. Or talk therapy is just too touchy-feely for them. I can say, "I have this technique," —and it's part of the marketing of the therapy if you will,— "and you are going to see it. And when we do this, you're going to see it and feel it." And so for somebody who needs sort of the, "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning," something very tangible, it's a nice therapy to use.
Posted on BrainLine May 14, 2013.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine.