EMDR is an evidence-based integrative psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and of other psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms. The model on which EMDR is based, the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), posits that much of psychopathology is due to the maladaptive encoding of and/or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing adverse life experiences. This impairs the client’s ability to integrate these experiences in an adaptive manner.
EMDR therapy enables the resumption of normal information processing and integration. Specifically, EMDR addresses issues involving the past, present and future by targeting past experiences, current triggers, and future potential challenges, results in the alleviation of presenting symptoms, a decrease or elimination of distress from the disturbing memory, improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.
Francine Shapiro’s (2001) Adaptive Information Processing model, guides clinical practice, explains EMDR’s effects, and provides a common platform for theoretical discussion. The AIP model provides the framework through which the eight phases and three prongs (past, present, and future) of EMDR are understood and implemented. The evolution and explanation of both mechanisms and models are ongoing through research and theory development.
EMDR accomplishes the resolution of traumatic and disturbing adverse life experiences through a standardized set of procedures and clinical protocols which incorporates dual focus of attention and alternating bilateral visual, auditory and/or tactile stimulation. This process activates the components of the memory of disturbing life events and facilitates the resumption of adaptive information processing and integration.
Traumatic events and/or disturbing adverse life experiences can be encoded maladaptively in memory resulting in inadequate or impaired linkage with memory networks containing more adaptive information. Pathology is thought to result when adaptive information processing is impaired by these experiences which are inadequately processed. Information is maladaptively encoded and linked dysfunctionally within emotional, cognitive, somatosensory, and temporal systems.
Memories thereby become susceptible to dysfunctional recall with respect to time, place, and context and may be experienced in fragmented form. Accordingly, new information, positive experiences and affects are unable to functionally connect with the disturbing memory. This impairment in linkage and the resultant inadequate integration contribute to a continuation of symptoms.
In EMDR, specific and well-defined treatment procedures facilitate information reprocessing by utilizing an approach to treatment that optimizes client stabilization before, during, and after the reprocessing of distressing and traumatic memories and associated stimuli. The EMDR approach to psychotherapy is to facilitate the client’s innate ability to heal.
Therefore, during memory reprocessing, therapist intervention is kept to the minimum necessary for the continuity of information reprocessing.