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Last Updated on April 30, 2016


Psychotherapy and antidepressants are well-known treatments for depression. But one strategy you might not have heard about is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which is producing favorable results in certain patients experiencing depression.

Conquering Depression With EMDR

EMDR originated by California shrink Frances Shapiro, PhD, as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in the late 1980s, but studies have found it helpful with other conditions, including depression. “The most typical candidate [for EMDR] is an individual who has suffered an important trauma in his or her life that continues to intrude on the present and negatively impacts their functioning in some way,” says Ted W. Raddell, PhD, counseling psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Beachwood Family Health and Surgery Center in Ohio.

Typical people who might find relief from EMDR for their melancholy comprise those individuals who have experienced a major injury including physical or sexual abuse in childhood; a serious injury; a natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood, or earthquake;or an unnatural occasion like 9/11 or witnessing a homicide. Scientists also have found EMDR successful for treatment of prolonged anxiety which may be causing depression, like growing up with alcoholism, surviving on-going or multiple matters, or living in poverty or with mental illness in the household.

How EMDR Is Done

“When a traumatic event occurs, it could get frozen in the memory systems of the brain using the original images, beliefs about oneself, emotions, and body senses,” Raddell describes. “This is why when an injury gets activated by everyday situation, the person can experience incredible nervousness, almost as if they are reliving the experience yet again. EMDR appears to unfreeze this trapped or stored material so the brain can integrate it and desensitization happens.”

The EMDR approach requires eight stages that generally focus on the therapist explaining the procedure within the span of a couple of sessions before actual treatment begins, establishing a rapport together with the patient, and requiring a thorough client history. During the treatment itself, the individual focuses on the traumatic event and accompanying sensations while also following the therapist’s fingers with their eyes as the fingers are moved back and forth. (The fingers are generally used, but some therapists use auditory tones or tapping instead.) This really is then repeated numerous times before the patient doesn’t feel misery when thinking about the memory that was disturbing.

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“Research within the last decade suggests that it’s the dual attention processing that seems to be most essential in activating this healing mechanism within the person’s brain,” says Raddell. “In other words, the eye movements aren’t the most significant element, but rather it is the client’s brain that’s doing the healing as EMDR taps into an adaptive process that enables someone to incorporate the trapped stuff in a more natural form.”

EMDR Treatment Results

Experience no distress in the slightest although patients who have had treatment that is EMDR can still remember the traumatic event, but either feel less distressed by it. Some describe it as more like an average memory while others say it’s less distinct or feels farther away. Research suggests the EMDR process alters the events are kept in the brain and could not be dissimilar to the subconscious processing occurring during REM sleep.

Raddell points out that while EMDR was demonstrated to be successful, no single depression treatment works for every single man. In the event you are still experiencing signs of depression after EMDR treatment, it’s always advisable to use other physicians and treatments before you find the right strategy or combination of systems.

The EMDR Institute can help you locate a therapist trained in this process, if you’re interested in attempting EMDR.

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