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Rapid Eye Movement Therapy: Does it Exist?


There are many types of therapy you may undergo if you need help, and some of them are a little more obscure than others.

One form of therapy you may have not heard about until now involves rapid eye movements. When you think of that, you may think of dreaming while you are asleep, not going to a therapist.

Let’s discuss.

First, What is Rapid Eye Movement Therapy?

This is better known as EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. This is a newer type of therapy. It was first developed in 1989 by Francine Shapiro, a psychologist.

Shapiro noticed that when her eyes moved rapidly, she felt less distressed. This gave birth to the idea of lowering patients’ distress through EMDR.

What this form of therapy uses are the rapid eye movements of the patient. In theory, those movements can allow a patient with PTSD to reduce their symptoms.

Being newer in the world of therapy, there’s still speculation and controversy about it, which we will discuss a bit later.

In addition to PTSD, EMDR may help with anxiety and panic disorder, eating disorders, and addictions.

What Does an EMDR Therapist Do?

You may wonder what EMDR entails. Each session can take up to an hour and a half. In a way, it resembles hypnotism. It begins by your therapist asking you what your distress level is.

Your therapist will use their fingers and wave them in front of your face. You’re then asked to look at the fingers, and your therapist will ask you to remember an event that’s disturbing to you.

You must recall this event in every detail. As you do so, you’ll think about all the emotions that the event came with.

It does sound frightening, but your therapist will manage to shift your distressing thoughts into something more pleasant.

When the session is over, the therapist will once again ask your distress level, with the goal hoping that it’s less than when you started.

How Does it Work?

The answer is not known as of yet. It is a form of therapy that does not have too much research on it, so we are not sure yet how it behaves.

One theory is that EMDR relaxes you, helping you to reduce your anxiety and, in turn, your PTSD.

EMDR also has some similarities to prolonged exposure therapy, particularly in distracting yourself from emotions that are associated with traumatic events.

Does it Work?

EMDR, in theory, could help to weaken the emotions that make your PTSD worse. There is still research about it that needs to be done to measure its effectiveness.

It’s been around since the late 1980s, as mention earlier. However, it’s only recently started to take effect. There does seem to be some evidence that it’s effective, but not everyone agrees. There is not too much evidence, and this is mostly due to the lack of studies.

However, there does seem to be some evidence. It has been found that EMDR is a generally safe type of therapy. Meanwhile, the APA, or American Psychiatric Association, has observed that EMDR may be effective towards treating PTSD.

The APA adds that if a patient has trouble talking about the traumatic events, EMDR may be even more effective.

Another organization that has found EMDR to be effective is the Department of Defense, alongside of the Department of Veterans Affairs. They strongly recommend EMDR for therapy for PTSD.

With that said, since it is a harmless form of therapy, we recommend you try it when you’re treating your PTSD. In addition, another thing you need to remember is that:

It May Work as a Supplemental Form of Therapy

Since there is a lot we don’t know about EMDR, this type of therapy may work best if you are doing it alongside traditional talk therapy.

If you want to receive therapy online, one way for you to do so is through BetterHelp. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can get you the help you need on your own schedule.

For more information on BetterHelp, click here. There, you should find therapists who offer various types of therapy, including EMDR.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Marie Miguel Biography

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with

With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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