While it's the trauma of war most often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the condition can affect anyone who has had a life-threatening or other emotionally traumatic experience.
Symptoms can be a temporary avoidance of people or places, or a lifetime of flashbacks. For some, conventional psychotherapy is an effective treatment; others say it's not enough, as they continue to be "haunted" by disturbing memories years afterward.
In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro noticed a possible connection between the processing of negative thoughts and rapid eye movements. Her experiments led to the introduction of a new therapy for PTSD called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or (EMDR).
EMDR has caught the attention of therapists and patients alike with the theory that when trauma occurs, a person's natural information processing system can become "blocked" so that feelings of danger repeat even long after the threat has passed. By focusing a patient's eyes on a swinging object, such as a wand or point of light, EMDR therapists believe the eye movement triggers a neurological mechanism allowing the mind to "let go" of the memory faster and more effectively than before.
The EMDR Institute says there are about 30,000 EMDR-trained therapists worldwide and over a million patients who've undergone the therapy. But studies of EMDR yield a mixed bag of results. Some research suggests EMDR-treated patients don't fare much better than patients who receive conventional therapy, whereas other research, such as a two-year study by Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara, California, have found EMDR to be both twice as fast and effective in treating PTSD than traditional therapy.
Convinced the treatment warrants more research, the National Institute of Justice -the research agency of the U.S. Department of Justice - recently granted money to study the effects of EMDR on police officers with the disorder, at the Colorado Springs Police Department.