EMDR is a therapeutic technique that was discovered by chance by Dr. Francine Shapiro (a psychology Ph.D. student at the time) in 1987. She noticed, while taking a walk in a park, that the intensity of her upsetting thoughts and feelings diminished after her eyes had been moving rapidly back and forth. Dr. Shapiro used this observation to develop a special psychotherapy protocol that was shown to relieve chronic disress in victims of trauma.
EMDR was originally used primariliy to treat adult sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but is now used in much broader ways (for various other typical therapy concerns like depression, anxiety, self-esteem, grief, trauma, abuse, and phobias) with adults, couples, and children.
While the bilateral eye movements of EMDR may seem a little strange at first, has been proven to be an effective and efficient form of psychotherapy, often taking fewer sessions to see results than other more traditional therapy methods. It is a structured 8 phase procedure that targets the past, present, and future aspects of a distressing memory and helps replace unhealthy negative beliefs with more healthy and positive beliefs. The EMDR process helps remove the emotional impact of a traumatic memory or experience, while keeping the memory itself intact. Successful EMDR treatment may require one or more sessions per targeted memory depending on a variety of factors.
EMDR treatment begins with a history taking and treatment planing discussion. After the problem is clarified, clients are directed to follow several types of bilateral (i.e, both sides of the body) stimulation (visually tracking hand movements or tapping on the knees) while focusing on the disturbing memory. While the processing of EMDR may create strong emotional or physical sensations in the client during the session, most individuals describe a reduction in anxiety or emotional distress after the treatment session.
More information and research on EMDR can be found on Dr. Shapiro's website here.