My EMDR Journey

EMDR History

 April 25, 2023

By  Jonathan Biles

When it comes to discussing the topic of the development and history of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), there is a lot of ground to cover. It has become a popular form of therapy in recent years, particularly for its effectiveness in treating trauma-related disorders. EMDR has a rich history of development and research that has led to its current widespread use.

The Origins of EMDR

Francine Shapiro developed EMDR in the late 1980s. Shapiro was a graduate student at the time, and she discovered the therapeutic potential of eye movements by accident. One day, she was taking a walk in the park and noticed that her own negative thoughts had diminished after she had moved her eyes back and forth rapidly. Intrigued, she began experimenting with the eye movement technique in her psychotherapy practice. She found that it was effective in reducing the intensity of traumatic memories and associated negative emotions.

Shapiro initially called the technique “Eye Movement Desensitization,” but later changed it to “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” to better reflect its broader scope. EMDR combines elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and neurobiological research. It addresses various psychological issues, including PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Early Research and Development

In the early years, Shapiro conducted a series of case studies to explore its effectiveness in treating trauma-related disorders. In 1989, she presented her findings at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) annual conference, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Many clinicians began incorporating this into their own practices.

As interest grew, so did the demand for more rigorous research to support its effectiveness. In 1991, Shapiro and her colleagues published the first controlled study, which found that it was more effective than a placebo condition in reducing the symptoms of PTSD. This landmark study helped to establish EMDR as a legitimate and effective form of therapy.

Recognition and Widespread Use of EMDR

Over the next few years, it continued to gain recognition and popularity among clinicians and researchers. In 1995, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognized EMDR as a “Level II” treatment for PTSD, indicating that it was “probably efficacious” based on the available research. This recognition helped to further establish EMDR as a legitimate and effective form of therapy.

As more therapists recognized its potential, thousands of them worldwide began to use EMDR, which is effective in treating a wide range of psychological issues beyond PTSD, including anxiety, depression, phobias, and more.

Evolution and Advancements

While the basic techniques have remained largely the same since its inception, there have been several advancements and adaptations made over the years. For example, Shapiro originally used eye movements as the primary bilateral stimulation technique, but other forms of stimulation are developing, such as hand taps, tones, and vibrations. These different forms of bilateral stimulation can be used interchangeably, depending on the client’s preferences and needs.

Furthermore, experts have developed several variations of EMDR that cater to specific issues or populations. The EMDR-Pain Protocol, for instance, was designed to treat chronic pain, while EMDR for Addictions was created to address substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. These variations allow for a more tailored approach to therapy that can be customized to the client’s individual needs.

Recent Research on EMDR

EMDR has shown to be effective in treating a wide range of psychological issues, but controversy surrounds its use. Some researchers have questioned the validity of the underlying theory behind EMDR. Particularly under attack is the idea that eye movements can facilitate the processing of traumatic memories. Critics have pointed out that many of the studies supporting the effectiveness of EMDR have been conducted by its proponents, leading to concerns.

EMDR continues to be widely used and has been endorsed by numerous professional organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Psychological Association (APA) despite these criticisms. In recent years, research on EMDR has continued to expand, with studies examining its effectiveness in treating a variety of populations and issues, such as military veterans with PTSD and individuals with complex trauma.

More on EMDR research

One area of research that has received increasing attention is the neurobiological basis of EMDR. We still do not fully understand the underlying mechanisms of EMDR.. However, research suggests that the bilateral stimulation used in EMDR may activate certain neural networks in the brain, leading to changes in the way traumatic memories are processed and stored. A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that EMDR was associated with decreased activity in the amygdala, a brain region involved in the processing of emotional memories.

Researchers have explored the potential use of EMDR with other forms of therapy. For example, a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that EMDR was effective in enhancing the effects of prolonged exposure therapy, another form of psychotherapy commonly used to treat PTSD.

EMDR Exceeds Trauma Work

EMDR research has demonstrated its effectiveness in treating a variety of other psychological issues. For example, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that EMDR was effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety in individuals with anxiety disorders. Another meta-analysis published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that EMDR was effective in reducing symptoms of depression in individuals with depression.

Despite its effectiveness, EMDR is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Clients should work with a qualified therapist who has received training in EMDR and can offer the necessary guidance and support throughout the therapy process, as is the case with any form of therapy.

Time to wrap it up

In conclusion, EMDR is a type of therapy that has become increasingly popular for its effectiveness in treating trauma-related disorders. Although researchers have not fully understood the underlying mechanisms of EMDR, studies indicate that EMDR might activate specific neural networks in the brain and cause alterations in how the brain processes and stores traumatic memories. Research studies have demonstrated that EMDR effectively treats various psychological issues, including anxiety and depression. Many professional organizations have endorsed the use of EMDR, despite criticisms and controversies surrounding it. EMDR remains a widely used therapy approach. As research on EMDR continues to expand, it is likely that the technique will continue to grow and evolve, providing relief and healing to those suffering from trauma-related disorders and other psychological issues.

Jonathan Biles. Mentor and Founder of Triumph University Triumph and achieve peace

About the author 

Jonathan Biles

Jonathan Biles is a well-respected writer of fiction stories across the globe. He has worked with multiple publishing entities from print newspaper to Amazon Kindle. With a degree from The University of Idaho and print experience with Texas Tech University, he is sought after as a feature writer amongst his peer group. His readers rate him as a 5-star author and has won awards from Columbia University. As an author, he can transport you from daily chaos to worlds and adventures sure to entertain through his vivid imagery.

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