How Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Works
Perhaps the intensity of the problem, in contrast with the simplicity of the eye-movement solution, makes EMDR's promise of a real cure seem so unbelievable to many. EMDR treatment begins typically enough, with therapist and patient identifying the traumatic event and the negative beliefs (such as feelings of worthlessness or fear) the experience has created in the patient, as well as establishing how the patient would prefer to feel.
Next, with the therapist sitting very close, the patient is encouraged to bring the traumatic memory to mind and experience the negative emotions that come with it. During this time, the therapist moves his or her hand back and forth in front of the patient's face to produce rapid movements of the patient's eyes. This is the "desensitization" phase of treatment.
Later, the patient is asked to think positive thoughts while making a different set of eye movements, in the "reprocessing" phase.
There are eight steps in all, and Shapiro claims that as many as 90 percent of those who undergo EMDR are cured of PTSD, most within only three sessions.
"The beauty of it," she explains, "is you can take a rape experience, for instance, and the victim who starts out saying, 'I'm damaged goods, and it was my fault, and I'll never be any good' and a partner touches her in a certain way and she jumps, even if it happened 10 years ago.
With EMDR, at the end of the three sessions she's saying, 'You know, I did really well. He had a knife at my throat, and I got out alive. The shame is his, it's not mine. I'm a strong, resilient woman.' And if her partner touches her in the same way, she's not gonna jump anymore, because it's out of her system."
Shapiro says the secret came to her while walking through a park one day in 1987. "I noticed some disturbing thoughts I was having were suddenly disappearing, and when I went to bring them back they just didn't have the same charge anymore." She started paying close attention and, "noticed that when that kind of thought came to mind, my eyes spontaneously started moving in a certain way, and I noticed the thought shifting. So, I thought I'd stumbled on the natural process that's there for everyone, and I was just lucky enough to have noticed it."