Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
According to the Sceptics Dictionary
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique in which the patient moves his or her eyes back and forth, hither and thither, while concentrating on "the problem." The therapist waves a stick or light in front of the patient and the patient is supposed to follow the moving stick or light with his or her eyes. The therapy was discovered by therapist Dr. Francine Shapiro while on a walk in the park. (Her doctorate was earned at the now defunct and never accredited Professional School of Psychological Studies. Her undergraduate degree is in English literature.*) It is claimed that EMDR can "help" with “phobias, generalized anxiety, paranoid schizophrenia, learning disabilities, eating disorders, substance abuse, and even pathological jealousy” (Lilienfeld 1996), but its main application has been in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No one has been able to adequately explain how EMDR is supposed to work. Some think it works something like acupuncture (which allegedly unblocks chi): rapid eye movements allegedly unblock "the information-processing system." Some think it works by a sort of ping-pong effect between the right and left sides of the brain, which somehow restructures memory. Or perhaps it works, as one therapist suggested, by the rapid eye movements sending signals to the brain which somehow tame and control the naughty part of the brain which had been causing the psychological problems. I heard the latter explanation on a television news report (December 2, 1994). The television station provided a nice visual of a cut-away head with sparks flying in the brain. The anchorman warned us not to try this at home, that only licensed mental health professionals were qualified to give this kind of therapy. One such professional is Dr. Ann T. Viviano, who thinks EMDR works this way: "The client, by following a moving light with their eyes, activates the healing process of the brain, much as what occurs in sleep. As a result, the painful memories are re-processed and the original beliefs which sprang up from them are eliminated. New, healthy beliefs replace these." The healing occurs by activating the healing process.
According to Wikipedia
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an information processing 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. Clinical trials have demonstrated EMDR's efficacy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In some studies it has been shown to be equivalent to cognitive behavioral and exposure therapies, and more effective than some alternative treatments (see effectiveness sections below). However, the effectiveness of the mechanisms behind EMDR have been questioned, with most leading researchers concluding that cognitive restructuring (which is common in most therapies for PTSD), rather than the eye movements, are responsible for change. Although some clinicians may use EMDR for various problems, its research support is primarily for disorders stemming from distressing life experiences.
Over the last 18 years evidence has accumulated that supports EMDR as an effective treatment for problems associated with distressing memories that relate to the experience of a negative/traumatic event.
Based on the evidence of controlled research both the practice guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense have placed EMDR in the highest category of effectiveness and research support in the treatment of trauma. This status is reflected in a number of international guidelines where EMDR is a recommended treatment for trauma.