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Why This Type Of Therapy Is Effective For PTSD & Other Trauma

In 1987, psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., made a discovery during a walk in the park. While walking, she was thinking about some recent disturbing events in her life. As she considered these events, she became aware that her eyes were moving back and forth. As her eyes moved, she noticed that the negative emotional charge of the painful memories that had driven her to the park that day subsided dramatically. She began exploring the connection between “bilateral” (back-and-forth) eye movements and the diminishing or “desensitization” of anxiety. She eventually developed a full treatment around this feature and conducted controlled research and case studies to evaluate its effects. She named the approach Eye Movement Desensitization (EMD), and later changed the name to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR).

That’s exactly what it is: a psychotherapy for desensitizing anxiety (taking away or lowering distress) and reprocessing traumatic memories. And yes, it’s also a mouthful and an earful. We know.

What Shapiro came to prove was that trauma victims are actually able to experience a reduction in symptoms and start experiencing a level of peace and healing within a few sessions. Previously, this kind of change had been possible only after years of talk therapy—if ever. Subsequently, EMDR has been intensively studied and proven effective—and efficient—in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD develops in response to a traumatic experience that causes intense fear, helplessness, or horror. EMDR therapy is recognized as an effective form of treatment for PTSD by the American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense. More than 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy, and millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 30 years.

Once traumatic experiences and their related triggers have been processed, we expect to see a reduction or even a complete remission in a wide range of problems and symptoms.

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