EMDR therapy (eye movements): applications and efficacy

The use of EMDR therapy in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorders, mainly related to anxiety, has become popular in recent years. It essentially consists of moving the eyes to follow the fingers of the therapist while remembering a disturbing event; according to its author, Francine Shapiro, it promotes emotional processing.

In this article we will talk about the mechanisms of action, the main applications and efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. We will stop above all by comparing it to prolonged living exposure, the classic treatment of choice to treat the symptoms of many anxiety disorders.

    What is EMDR therapy?

    Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is better known by the acronym “EMDR” (“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”). however, some Spanish-speaking authors call this intervention “DRMO therapy”, Adaptation of the abbreviation to Spanish.

    It is a relatively recent psychological treatment. It was developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s around the hypothesis that certain types of eye movements are useful in reducing the emotional intensity caused by negative thoughts, such as traumatic memories.

    The procedure to be followed by psychotherapists when using EMDR it consists of moving the fingers in front of the client’s face, Which in turn must move their eyes to focus their gaze at all times on the clinician’s fingers. During this time, it will cause the person you are treating to focus on specific mental contents in order to process them.

    The EMDR program is structured in eight phases. Each of them focuses on a different time point: the present, the past or the future. The sessions last a maximum of 1.5 hours and begin with the induction of negative thoughts, but gradually these are replaced by others with a more pleasant emotional tone.

      Applications of this intervention

      EMDR therapy is mainly applied in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, Who appears as a result of traumatic experiences that endanger his own life or that of others. Some of the most important risk factors are rape and other physical violence, war, traffic accidents or threats of weapons.

      However, this intervention program has also been used in people with other anxiety disorders, such as specific phobias and anxiety attacks, with different types of addictions and with eating disorders.

      Several meta-analyzes support the use of EMDR for purposes similar to exposure therapy, as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder. however, the particularity of this method, the lack of clarity of its mechanisms and certain methodological problems research in this regard makes many professionals question it.

      What is its mechanism of action?

      According to Shapiro herself and her followers, EMDR therapy is effective due to rhythmic eye movements. they make memories with a negative emotional charge less disturbing when the two factors operate simultaneously. Therefore, it is an unusual psychological therapy because it is not based on conversation.

      Other authors view EMDR as nothing more than a type of imaginative exposure therapy. The effectiveness of this type of intervention is slightly lower than that of live exposure, although they are also more tolerable for clients and can be applied in problems where live exposure is not viable ( eg the phobia of flying).

      In general, it can be said that, whatever the mechanism of action of EMDR, it appears to be an effective treatment. What is not so clear at the moment is whether it is possible distinguish it from other procedures based on prolonged exposure to stimuli that cause anxiety or other discomfort.

      Are you looking for professional assistance with EMDR therapy?

      If you live in the Madrid area and want to undergo EMDR therapy, one of the recommended options that you can rely on is the therapy center. Psychologists El Prat, Which has 3 offices in the Spanish capital: Carrer de Cervantes nº 9, Carrer de Núñez de Balboa nº 42 and Carrer d’Espalter nº13. Its team of professionals, made up of psychologists and psychiatrists, has a long history of patient care, and offers a free first session. Your contact details are available here.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Schnyder, Ulrich; Cloister, Marylène (02/14/2015). Evidence-based treatments for trauma-related psychological disorders: a practical guide for physicians. Springer.
      • Shapiro, F (1989). “Effectiveness of the Eye Movement Desensitization Procedure in Treating Traumatic Memories.” Traumatic Stress Journal. 2 (2): 199-223.

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