What is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)?

What is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)?“EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep — that allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain.

This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.” Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Numerous research articles have established EMDR’s efficacy for emotional and physical trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

And more recently, researchers are beginning to find EMDR to also be useful for those on the autism spectrum. [i]

EMDR is a blend of psychotherapy and bilateral brain stimulation which is highly successful in treating a range of mental health, intellectual and developmental disorders when modified or adapted to the client’s developmental level of functioning.

During this procedure, patients tend to “process” the memory in a way that leads to a peaceful resolution.

This often results in increased insight regarding both previously disturbing events and long held negative thoughts about the self.

Dr. Francine Shapiro, PhD, the originator of EMDR agrees.

“Since the autism spectrum disorder population is acutely sensitive to environmental disruption, many everyday experiences can cause emotional disturbance, including trauma symptoms.

For instance, one child displayed a high level of post-traumatic stress symptoms after going through a car wash, or getting bullied.

While recent research has shown that general life experiences can cause even more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than major trauma in the general population, the susceptibility is even more problematic for those with autism.

Reports of positive treatment effects with autism spectrum disorder include a loss of trauma symptoms, increased stability of mood, greater communication and an increase in socialization.”[ii]

by Jennifer Giustra-Kozek, LPC, HpN


[i] Flu, Brand R.L., “Tap, tap, tap the use fullness of EMDR on kids on the autism spectrum,” European Psychiatry, 27, 1, (2012); Lowry, M., “Assessment and treatment of mood disorders in persons with developmental disabilities’” Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 10 (1998) 387-406.

[ii] Shapiro, Francine, PhD, “Expert Answers on EMDR,” New York Times (16 Mar. 2012).

Related Pages


EMDR for Stress, Anxiety and Trauma

Categories: Autism