Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., and introduced in 1987 as a treatment for PTSD. Dr. Shapiro is the founder of the EMDR Institute, Inc., in Watsonville, CA. She came upon the idea for EMDR quite by accident. While walking from class, she recalled an upsetting event. Shapiro noticed that when her eyes darted back and forth quickly, she began to feel better.
Shapiro posited that guided rapid eye movements while awake could help people access and reprocess adverse events.
Turns out, she was right.
Numerous studies, from as far back as 1993, have reviewed EMDR treatment among combat veterans and have found the results to be impressive. In fact, after one such study, which was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1998, 78% of veterans no longer met the criteria for PTSD after treatment.
The Brain’s Processing System
EMDR accesses one’s memory network system. Think of our brains as a computer system. You have a plethora of different memories in different folders and files. Our network of memories informs our perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of the world.
Usually memories are able to resolve on their own. Ever have a bad day at work, go to write a colorful email, and leave it in your drafts to read the next day? More often than not, after you sleep and return to that email the next day, you’ll read it and make some changes prior to hitting send.
Sometimes it’s a little more difficult.
EMDR operates on the belief that the past is present. A present problem is informed by past experiences that are maladaptively stored. When an experience is maladaptively stored, the sights, sounds, smells, and images of the past experience flood an individual when they encounter a trigger.
At its core, EMDR uses guided eye movements to help reprocess and take away the power of said adverse life experience by simulating the eye movements of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
EMDR and Post-Traumatic Stress
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has found EMDR to be highly effective in treating PTSD. The technique allows the thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and beliefs associated with the acute stress to be reprocessed.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has recommended EMDR treatment for active and retired military members who experience PTSD. Many other researchers have also found EMDR can help resolve acute stress and adverse life experiences for many.
Something more important: The lasting effects of the treatment have been impressive. Progress continues to occur between therapy sessions secondary to the biofeedback that occurs during the process. This is helpful for finding resolution to symptomatology.
Post-Traumatic Stress in the Public
Mental health, in general, is slowly losing its stigma. This means that more people are willing to seek help. Part of the reason for this sea change is the openness of celebrities. Lady Gaga was the first high-profile entertainer to disclose her struggle with PTSD when she talked about being raped. Lady Gaga said the PTSD overtook her life once she became well-known.
Singer Ariana Grande dealt with PTSD after her 2017 concert in England was the scene of a deadly terrorist attack, where 22 people were killed. She spoke openly about her struggle with her fans through her social media portals.
British actress Keira Knightley also made her struggle with PTSD public, in the hopes of raising awareness.
Other celebrities have come forward to discuss their own experiences with mental illness (not just PTSD). Former wrestler and current actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had struggled with depression after a series of football-related injuries when he was younger. Actor Chris Evans talks about how he manages his anxiety, and actress Demi Lovato has been open about her diagnosis with bipolar disorder.
Destigmatizing mental illness, PTSD in particular, is the best way to ensure that sufferers feel safe to seek help. And there is help. Treatment for PTSD has come a long way, and EMDR has been shown to be a bright light on that path.