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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (or EMDR) is a relatively new form of therapy, sometimes used for agoraphobia, that focuses on removing emotional triggers associated with childhood abuse or trauma. Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR combines a variety of therapeutic approaches with eye movements and other forms of rhythmical stimulation (e.g., sound and touch) in ways that stimulate the brain’s information processing system.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing was first practiced in 1989 as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Now it is used to treat depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, agoraphobia, performance anxiety, dissociative disorders, problems with body image, and personality disorders.

EMDR is recommended only for agoraphobia after the more proven cognitive-behavioral approaches have been tried or in cases where the agoraphobia develops from post-traumatic stress.

For some individuals, a traumatic life event such as an auto accident, mugging, rape, abuse, or childhood trauma can lead to the development of agoraphobia. Usually the person will develop another disorder first, like post-traumatic stress disorder.

After having some panic attacks associated with the initial disorder (at the scene of the trauma in some cases), the person develops fearful associations with certain places or situations. At some point, the fear generalizes and the person starts having panic attacks more frequently and in a wider variety of situations. Individuals who develop agoraphobia in this manner are the most likely to benefit from EMDR.

In EMDR, a therapist will ask you to revisit a traumatic event and remember the feelings, negative thoughts, or memories associated with it. While you are doing this, the therapist will hold up two fingers about eighteen inches from your face and move them from side to side. You will be told to track the movement of the therapist’s fingers with your eyes.

As you concentrate on the traumatic event during therapy, you are trying to bring its memory to life. The mental imagery you are able to conjure up during the therapy session is then processed by your eye movements, facilitating the exchange of painful feelings for peaceful, loving, and resolved feelings.

Though some mental health professionals claim that they have had positive results using EMDR to help people with agoraphobia, there is not a body of research to support its effectiveness.

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