Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed to resolve symptoms resulting from disturbing and unresolved life experiences. It uses a structured approach to address past, present, and future aspects of disturbing memories. The approach was developed by Francine Shapiro to resolve the development of trauma-related disorders as resulting from exposure to a traumatic or distressing event, such as rape or military combat.
EMDR uses a structured eight-phase approach and addresses the past, present, and future aspects of the dysfunctionally stored memory. During the processing phases of EMDR, the client attends to the disturbing memory in multiple brief sets of about 15–30 seconds, while simultaneously focusing on the dual attention stimulus (e.g., therapist-directed lateral eye movement, alternate hand-tapping, or bilateral auditory tones). Following each set of such dual attention, the client is asked what associative information was elicited during the procedure. This new material usually becomes the focus of the next set. This process of alternating dual attention and personal association is repeated many times during the session.
EMDR works directly with memory networks and enhances information processing by forging associations between the distressing memory and more adaptive information contained in other semantic memory networks. It is thought that the distressing memory is transformed when new connections are forged with more positive and realistic information. This results in a transformation of the emotional, sensory, and cognitive components of the memory so that, when it is accessed, the individual is no longer distressed. Instead he/she recalls the incident with a new perspective, new insight, resolution of the cognitive distortions, elimination of emotional distress, and relief of related physiological arousal.