Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

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According to the Skeptics Dictionary:

"EMDR is a therapeutic technique in which the patient moves his or her eyes back and forth, hither and thither, while concentrating on "the problem." The therapist waves a stick or light in front of the patient and the patient is supposed to follow the moving stick or light with his or her eyes. The therapy was discovered by therapist Dr. Francine Shapiro while on a walk in the park. At least, that's her version. John Grinder, one of the founders of NLP, claims he taught the eye movement part to her when she worked for his office as an administrator in the 1980s. (Shapiro's doctorate was earned at the now defunct and never accredited Professional School of Psychological Studies. Her bachelor's degree is in English literature.*) It is claimed that EMDR can "help" with “phobias, generalized anxiety, paranoid schizophrenia, learning disabilities, eating disorders, substance abuse, and even pathological jealousy” (Lilienfeld 1996), but its main application has been in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No one has been able to adequately explain how EMDR is supposed to work. Some think it works something like acupuncture (which allegedly unblocks chi): rapid eye movements allegedly unblock "the information-processing system." Some think it works by a sort of ping-pong effect between the right and left sides of the brain, which somehow restructures memory. Or perhaps it works, as one therapist suggested, by the rapid eye movements sending signals to the brain which somehow tame and control the naughty part of the brain which had been causing the psychological problems. I heard the latter explanation on a television news report (December 2, 1994). The television station provided a nice visual of a cut-away head with sparks flying in the brain. The anchorman warned us not to try this at home, that only licensed mental health professionals were qualified to give this kind of therapy. One such professional is Dr. Ann T. Viviano, who thinks EMDR works this way: "The client, by following a moving light with their eyes, activates the healing process of the brain, much as what occurs in sleep. As a result, the painful memories are re-processed and the original beliefs which sprang up from them are eliminated. New, healthy beliefs replace these." The healing occurs by activating the healing process...

"Ranae Johnson has founded the Rapid Eye Institute on a blueberry farm in Oregon where she teaches Rapid Eye Technology. This amazing new therapy is used "to facilitate releasing and clearing of old programming, opening the way to awareness of our joy and happiness." It helps us "find light and spirituality within us that has always been there." Apparently, people are paying some $2,000 for the training and all the blueberries you can eat." [1]

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  1. Skeptics Dictionary Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, organizational web page, accessed May 8, 2014.