Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The client follows the therapist’s hand moving back and forth horizontally across the client’s field of vision while thinking of a traumatic incident in their life. The thought is to get physical and mental processes moving so the trauma becomes unfrozen. The image is no longer frozen in time.
The idea is that when the trauma occurred it became a fixated image in the person’s mind because it was like a “deer caught in the headlights. I think that there is another reason EMDR works. I think it has to do with Rapid Eye Movements (REM) that occur and signals that the sleeper is dreaming.
A prominent symptom that occurs with PTSD is vivid nightmares. Of course, REM occurs during nightmares. I think by having rapid eye movements occur while the person is conscious, it allows the underlying feelings to emerge so that the person can work on the troubling images.
During EMDR, the therapist stops moving the hand every 30 seconds or so to ask what the client is seeing in their mind. The therapist can suggest to the client the portion of the image on which to focus based on what the person reports. It ends up being guided imagery with cognitive therapy to change the person’s reaction to the images.
PTSD dreams are one of about six major types of dreams. They are not symbolic. They are simply images that have been burned into the person’s subconscious. EMDR frees the person from the relentlessly captivating traumatic image in their brain.
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