When you undergo a traumatic experience, your brain’s capacity to process memory from the event is compromised.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy used to treat trauma, PTSD, panic disorder, and other mental health disorders. It is a helpful form of therapy for people who have suffered emotional stress in their lives and is one of the most researched treatment modalities for treating trauma. EMDR is evidence-based and has been used in over 30 clinical studies and hundreds of case studies. It is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a preferred treatment option for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The most notable feature of EMDR is bilateral stimulation. This term describes the process of using tapping, audible tones, or patterned eye movements to stimulate both sides of the brain in tandem, allowing the subject to enter into a state where memories are more viscerally accessed and can be reprocessed.
EMDR was developed in the 1980s by Francine Shapiro—a psychotherapist—when she was walking through a park and realized that the distressing thoughts she had been having began to subside after she looked from one side of the park to the other. She wondered whether eye movements, from left to right, helped re-process the distressing thoughts, emotions, and memories that come from stress. This activity is thought to be similar to what happens to the brain during REM sleep cycles when the brain integrates helpful information and eliminates unhelpful information.
However, when you undergo a traumatic experience, your brain’s capacity to process memory from the event is compromised. This is primarily because our body sends a message to our brain telling us that our current experience is dangerous, threatening, and does not make sense. It is as if the trauma makes our brain’s ability to problem solve very weak, similar to scratches on a vinyl record when a song plays that skips or repeats certain parts. This incompleteness in our information processing will typically manifest in unhelpful coping patterns and negative beliefs about ourselves or the world around us.