The Eyes Have It. Traumatic experiences, such as rape, sexual or physical abuse, war experiences, or being the victim of a violent crime or terrifying accident may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms may include depression, anxiety attacks, rage or aggressive behavior, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, terrifying nightmares, and visual flashbacks in which the person re-experiences some of the emotions and sensations from the original trauma.
Francine Shapiro, PhD, a senior research fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, developed Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) after she noticed her own stress reactions diminish when her eyes swept back and forth while walking through a park. During treatment, a therapist asks patients to identify a vivid visual image related to the incident, along with related emotions and body sensations. While focusing on the image, negative thoughts, or sensations, patients simultaneously move their eyes back and forth, following the therapist’s fingers across their field of vision, for 20 to 30 seconds.
Patients are next told to “let their mind go,” observing whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation surfaces. The therapist helps them “process the association” and deal with any distress the images may cause–before moving on to the next focus. The primary objective is to “reprogram” the emotional brain so it stops continuing to react based on past experiences.
In 2002, The Journal of Clinical Psychology reported that 70 percent of EMDR participants achieved results in three active treatment sessions. It is one of four therapies given the highest recommendation by the US Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines for PTSD.
Next: Success with brain waves