Of course the ideal therapy does not exist. Working with people means that each case is different - each therapy is chosen to suit the patient. Still, EMDR is a useful therapeutic tool in the toolbox of your therapist.

What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR is a type of therapy where the patient is asked to make certain eye movements while thinking back to a traumatic memory. Te goal is to reduce or heal the patient from negative thoughts, anxiety, stress, tension, and flashbacks. EMDR is an abbreviation of "Eye Movement desensitization and Reprocessing".

How did EMDR therapy develop?

EMDR was developed - at least according to Francine Shapiro, MD from Palo Alto - when she was taking a walk through the forest. She was unhappy but suddenly realized that all her troubles disappeared. 'How did that happen', was the question she tried to answer. She tried to remember what had happened the moment right before. All she could remember is that she had moved her eyes. Francine Shapiro did some research and noticed that, if you move your eyes from left to right and back, your tension and negative thoughts sometimes disappear. She continued working on this idea and worked on clear research protocols which enabled her to train therapists all over the world in her technique.

The growth of EMDR as popular therapy for post-traumatic stress.

When, about twenty years ago, a dangerous hurricane ruined a part of Florida, Francine Shapiro quickly trained around 500 volunteers in the preventive use of EMDR, to then administer this to all victims. She wanted to know if this quick, preventive intervention could make it so that people would later on develop fewer complaints: especially the famous post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The experiment was successful: the results showed that the intervention was indeed effective, and everything went from there. Licenses were sold so therapists could be trained. That is how it goes in the United States: a good tool becomes the new miracle cure.

Can EMDR heal anxiety or stress?

Yes, in many cases it can, just like some other therapy types also are successful. Solution focused therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, too, have recently had good results. A therapist whose abilities are limited to just one type of therapy, will administer this therapy to all their patients. A therapist who knows how to use several types of therapy, will combine the best parts of the different therapies. In my own practise, I notice that EMDR can surprisingly quickly solve, reduce, or remove post-traumatic stress or anxiety attacks caused by recent traumas. With older, chronic traumas which have been present for a longer period of time, EMDR might be enough, but it is best combined with cognitive solution focused therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. In the end, it all depends on the specific case. Together with the patient you will attempt one method: if it works, you continue, if it does not, you switch to another one. EMDR is no miracle cure, while it can help some people with psychological pain in a surprisingly good way. Knowing for whom it will or will not work, however, is difficult to determine beforehand. The advantage is that EMDR usually only takes a few sessions, so if your therapist knows how to use the technique and believes you have a chance, then EMDR is definitely worth trying. It is a useful addition to the medical world and to psychology.

Self-test for anxiety or stress

Would you like to know to what extent stress, tension, anxiety, or even depressed feelings play a role in your agoraphobia? Test this easily by answering a simple test with 21 short questions.

Paul Koeck, MD