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An Introduction to EMDR: Your Body is Your Ally, Your Brain is Your Buddy

By Christina Johnson

EMDR was discovered by serendipity. One day in the late 1980s, Francine Shapiro, PhD, discovered that her anxious thoughts began diminishing as she was out taking a walk. She began experimenting with her new ideas and finally wrote her first manuscript about transforming “stuck memory” into a learning experience. Now EMDR has been so well researched that it is recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and those of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

How does it work?

EMDR is an acronym for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.” No one is entirely sure how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain; however, when a person is very upset, his brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily.

Trauma can be a moment that seems frozen in time, and remembering that moment may feel as bad as going through it the first time. Images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. The long-lasting effect is that a person may retain a negative way he sees the world and the way he relates to others because of the trauma.

EMDR has a direct effect on the way the brain processes information. After treatment, the event is still remembered, but the distress of the memory is no longer there. A treatment with EMDR has eight phases within the session. The beginning time is spent finding the “target” or the event that is at the core of the client’s disturbance/stress. The answers come somatically from the client. Questions are asked with emphasis on body awareness, and the therapist decides how to proceed using bilateral stimulation of the brain. The bilateral stimulation is done using eye movement, following a moving instrument or gentle touch on the hands or knees.

What kind of problems can EMDR treat?

Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post-traumatic stress. However, clinicians have also reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:

Panic attacks

Complicated grief

Dissociative disorders

Disturbing memories


Pain disorders

Performance anxiety

Stress reduction


Sexual and/or physical abuse

Body dysmorphic disorders

Personality disorders

“Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” —Dr. Peter Levine

A talk about EMDR will be given by psychotherapists Christina Johnson and Dorie Beach at 5pm, June 6, at Quinta Loreto salon room, Loreto 15. Donation suggested 50 pesos to cover room rental.


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