So why eye movements? Researchers are still studying the why, but what we DO know from over 20 clinical studies, is that a powerful transformation occurs when we recreate - while you’re awake - the eye movements you’re supposed to be experiencing in REM sleep. This therapy is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR. It was discovered by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in 1987 quite by accident while on a walk. As she moved her eyes around and simultaneously thought of past events, she discovered these events didn’t bother her as much as they used to. After much research and design, we now have a protocol using eye movements to bring up past events and get them fully processed. You can see ABC's 20/20 segment about EMDR (it's relatively old, but explains it pretty well). More recently, Dr. Shapiro was interviewed by the New York Times in February 2012.
We know these past events get completely processed when people are no longer reporting anxiety, panic, depression, sleep has improved and mysterious body complaints are improved. Addictive urges are greatly reduced as there’s no longer a need to self-medicate. It's fascinating to see someone bring up the negative memory - really think about it - and it no longer bothers them - it seems farther away, less vivid, because it has been filed into long-term memory where it belongs. When you think about it, we really don’t remember many events from long ago very clearly, unless something negative happened. That’s because your survival brain is designed to focus on things that may cause you physical harm, so you can run, fight, or hide. This part of the brain is primal and doesn’t always separate real harm from perceived harm, so it acts to protect you regardless. And it doesn’t always know when to stop so it keeps helping you survive long after you need to, leaving you in “survival mode”. EMDR calms the survival brain, and engages processing so that you can feel what you know to be true. That it is over.
What if you have eye problems or are blind? Good news. Over time, it’s been discovered that bilateral (right/left) sensory stimulation - including tapping and sound - can produce the same results. In fact, I like using these methods to enhance positive memories or thoughts, so that you can close your eyes and really visualize the experience.
I’ve been using EMDR with clients since 2007, and it amazes me to this day the rapid processing that occurs right before my OWN eyes. I never get tired of it. In the past couple of years, I've used EMDR to reduce (or eliminate) sugar cravings, increase urges for fruits, vegetables, water and increase motivation for exercising. These sessions have been quite remarkable, while results vary, the outcome is usually long term.