EMDR originated with a chance observation. One day in 1987 psychologist Francine Shapiro was walking through a park, preoccupied with some painful memories when she noticed that rapid eye movements produced a dramatic relief from her distress. EMDR loosens up something in the brain that gives people rapid access to loosely associated memories and images from their past. This seems to help them put the traumatic experience into a larger context or perspective. EMDR enables them to observe their experiences in a new way, without the need to describe or explain it to another person. EMDR can help even if the client and therapist do not have a trusting relationship which can be particularly helpful because trauma can leave people struggling to trust others. Because EMDR doesn’t require clients to explain to a therapist why they feel so upset, it allows them to stay fully focused on their internal experience with the feeling that they are in control. Rather than feeling each individual step of their traumatic memory it becomes more like a whole, instead of fragments, and feels more manageable, a story about something that happened a long time ago.
EMDR activates a series of unsought and seemingly unrelated sensations, emotions, images, and thoughts in conjunction with the original memory. This way of reassembling old information into new packages may be just the way we integrate ordinary, nontraumatic experiences. EMDR spends very little time revisiting the original trauma: the trauma is the starting point, but the focus is on stimulating and opening up the associative process.
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