The mechanism behind EMDR was discovered by chance in 1987 by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro. She observed that eye movements can reduce the intensity of distressing thoughts, under certain conditions. Dr. Shapiro began studying this process scientifically and found it very successful in the treatment of trauma victims. Her initial results have since been confirmed by several additional research studies.
We do not yet know enough about brain functioning to know exactly how EMDR works. What we do know, however, is that traumatic events often become "frozen" in one's memory such that recalling the event can feel as if the trauma is being re-experienced all over again. It also seems that trauma is stored in the right hemisphere of the brain. Traditional talk therapy primarily uses left hemisphere brain functions and can, therefore, take a very long time to process and resolve the traumatic experience. EMDR uses a variety of methods such as eye movements, hand tapping or sound coming through headphones to activate both sides of the brain (called bilateral stimulation), similar to what happens in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. When the brain is stimulated bilaterally, the logic of the left brain and the expression of the raw feeling of the right brain can work together to reintegrate the traumatic experience in a less disturbing way.
In addition to trauma, clinicians using this technique have reported success using EMDR in the treatment of panic attacks, complicated grief, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, anxiety disorders, phobias, performance anxiety, stress reduction, and addictions, sexual and/or physical abuse.
EMDR may be used in the context of regular "talk" therapy, as an additional therapy provided by someone other than the primary therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.
For further information on EMDR research or EMDR in general, contact The EMDR International Association at www.emdria.org