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Rapid eye recovery

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The biggest failing of the newest energy-psychology techniques is the lack of scientific evidence

The biggest failing of the newest energy-psychology techniques is the lack of scientific evidence. One exception, though, is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), the brainchild of psychol-ogist Francine Shapiro who, while walking in the park in 1987, realized that focusing on a moving target appeared to decrease her own upsetting memories. After a number of experiments, she eventually came up with EMDR (see box below).

The body has an adaptive system-much like the digestive system-to process experiences and connect them with past associations, memories and other knowledge so that we can successfully absorb whatever happens to us, good or bad. However, when we undergo an upset (even a minor one, such as being teased at school), such information processing may be interrupted. EMDR seeks to undo negative connections and reconnect the interrupted circuits so that we can process the event, get over it and move on.

Post-traumatic stress

An enormous body of evidence supports the effectiveness of EMDR for all sorts of psychological traumas and anxiety disorders, especially post-traumatic distress syndrome (PTDS). A meta-analysis of the studies so far shows that EMDR is one of the top treatments of choice for PTDS and works better than active listening (J Consult Clin Psychol, 2001; 69: 305-16; Clin Psychol Psychother, 1998; 5: 126-44). In one study, 100 per cent of the patients suffering from a single trauma, and 80 per cent of those surviving multiple traumas, were free of PTDS after just six 50-minute sessions (Psychotherapy, 1997; 34: 307-15).

EMDR also works rapidly compar-ed with more conventional therapies such as behavioural therapy, with results seen in one-third of the time needed for most 'talking' cures: 70 per cent achieved a good outcome after just three sessions compared with 29 per cent using prolonged-exposure therapy (J Clin Psychol, 2002; 58: 113-28). Although several sessions are usually required, a single EMDR session was able to shift more than half of 20 traumatized children from disturbed to normal status (Traumatology-e, 1997; 3: Article 6).

What's more, the effects appear to stick: a 15-month follow-up found that 84 per cent had maintained the positive effects with no symptoms (J Consult Clin Psychol, 1997; 65: 1047-56).

Also, EMDR is one of only three treatments for victims of terrorism (Clin Psychol, 1998; 51: 3-16), for soldiers with PTDS after combat (J Trauma Stress, 1998; 11: 3-24) and for children in the wake of disasters (J Clin Psychol, 2002; 58: 99-112). It also enables victims of sexual assault to reestablish normal lives (Soc Work Res, 1999; 23: 103-16). Just three 90-minute sessions eliminated PTDS in 90 per cent of, for example, rape victims (Bull Menninger Clin, 1997; 61: 317-34).

Other benefits

Besides trauma, EMDR can treat boys with problem behaviour related to distress in their personal histories (J Aggress Maltreat Trauma, 2002; 6: 217-36), and help patients with phobias and panic disorders (J Anxiety Disord, 1999; 13: 69-85). It can also offer rapid relief of chronic pain (J Clin Psychol, 2002; 58: 1505-20).

Even those addicted to drugs or gambling can be cured and their tendency to relapse reduced (J Gambl Stud, 1996; 12: 395-405; J Psychoact Drugs, 1994; 26: 379-91).

Beyond self-limitations

For those who don't have debilitating memories, EMDR is nevertheless a useful tool for enhancing personal performance-whether in business, or in the performing arts or sports-presumably because we all operate with self-limiting beliefs (J Appl Sport Psychol, 1995; 7 [Suppl]: 63; Sport J, 2004;7: 1-5, online at; Dressage Today, 1996; 28-33).

However, EMDR does require the presence of a trained therapist as,in cases of disturbing or unresolved memories, it can bring about major emotional release. Check with the EMDR Institute for a list of trained therapists (

Lynne McTaggart

How EMDR reprogrammes you

Most patients undergoing EMDR are asked to identify their most vivid visual image related to their upsetting memory, negative self-beliefs, and other related emotions and bodily sensations, and then to identify a preferred positive belief. The patient then focuses on the negative image/ thought and bodily sensations while following the therapist's fingers with his eyes as they move across his field of vision for 20-30 seconds or more. (Besides eye movement, therapists also use tapping, auditory tones or any other tactile stimulation.)

The therapist then asks the patient to notice whatever thought image or memory comes to mind, and has the patient focus on another thought or image during the eye movements or other stimulation.

As soon as the patient reports feeling no stress with the particular targeted memory, the therapist asks him to think of the positive belief while focusing on the negative incident and still engaging in the eye movements.

After several such sessions, the patient is usually able to readily adopt the positive belief.

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