Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1990s in which the person being treated is asked to recall distressing images; the therapist then directs the client in one type of bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping. It is included in several evidence-based guidelines for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It has been controversial; critics have argued that the eye movements in EMDR do not add to its effectiveness and lack a falsifiable theory. While multiple meta-analyses have found it to be just as effective as trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of PTSD, these findings are tentative given the low numbers in the studies, high risk rates of researcher bias and high dropout rates.

The person being treated is asked to recall distressing images while generating one of several types of bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping. The 2013 World Health Organization practice guideline says that “Like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a trauma focus, EMDR aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive beliefs related to the traumatic event. Unlike CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR does not involve (a) detailed descriptions of the event, (b) direct challenging of beliefs, (c) extended exposure, or (d) homework.”

A 1998 meta-analysis found that EMDR was as effective as exposure therapy and SSRIs.

A 2002 meta-analysis concluded that EMDR is not as effective, or as long lasting, as traditional exposure therapy.

A 2005 and a 2006 meta-analysis each suggested that traditional exposure therapy and EMDR have equivalent effects immediately after treatment and at follow-up.

Two meta-analyses in 2006 found EMDR to be at least equivalent in effect size to specific exposure therapies.

A 2009 review of rape treatment outcomes concluded that EMDR had some efficacy. Another 2009 review concluded EMDR to be of similar efficacy to other exposure therapies and more effective than SSRIs, problem-centered therapy, or “treatment as usual”.

A 2010 meta-analysis concluded that all “bona fide” treatments were equally effective, but there was some debate regarding the study’s selection of which treatments were “bona fide”.

A Cochrane systematic review comparing EMDR with other psychotherapies in the treatment of Chronic PTSD, found EMDR to be just as effective as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TFCBT) and more effective than the other non-TFCBT psychotherapies. Caution was urged interpreting the results due to low numbers in included studies, risk of researcher bias, high drop out rates, and overall “very low” quality of evidence for the comparisons with other psychotherapies.

Another systematic review examined 15 clinical trials of EMDR with and without the eye movements, finding that the effect size was larger when eye movements were used. Again, interpretation of this meta-analysis was tentative. Lee and Cuijpers (2013) stated that “the quality of included studies was not optimal. This may have distorted the outcomes of the studies and our meta-analysis. Apart from ensuring adequate checks on treatment quality, there were other serious methodological problems with the studies in the therapy context.”

The 2009 International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies practice guidelines categorized EMDR as an evidence-based level A treatment for PTSD in adults. Other guidelines recommending EMDR therapy – as well as CBT and exposure therapy – for treating trauma have included NICE starting in 2005, Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health in 2007, the Dutch National Steering Committee Guidelines Mental Health and Care in 2003, the American Psychiatric Association in 2004, the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense in 2010, SAMHSA in 2011, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies in 2009, and the World Health Organization in 2013.

EMDR is included in a 2009 practice guideline for helping children who have experienced trauma. EMDR is often cited as a component in the treatment of complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

A 2017 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in children and adolescents with PTSD found that EMDR was at least as efficacious as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and superior to waitlist or placebo.

The proposed mechanisms that underlie eye movements in EMDR therapy are still under investigation and there is as yet no definitive finding. The consensus regarding the underlying biological mechanisms involve the two that have received the most attention and research support: (1) taxing working memory and (2) orienting response/REM sleep.

There have been a number of proposed mechanisms including the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model.[unreliable medical source] In addition, brain waves during EMDR treatment shows changes in brain activity, specifically the limbic system showed its highest level of activity prior to commencing EMDR treatment.[unreliable medical source] A slowing of brain waves during the bilateral stimulation (eye movement) is somewhat similar to what occurs during sleep.[unreliable medical source]

According to the 2013 World Health Organization practice guideline: “This therapy [EMDR] is based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the result of unprocessed memories. The treatment involves standardized procedures that include focusing simultaneously on (a) spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations and (b) bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements.”

Salkovskis in 2002 reported that the eye movement is irrelevant, and that the effectiveness of EMDR was solely due to its having properties similar to CBT, such as desensitization and exposure.

EMDR therapy was first developed by Francine Shapiro upon noticing that certain eye movements reduced the intensity of disturbing thought. She then conducted a scientific study with trauma victims in 1988 and the research was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1989. Her hypothesis was that when a traumatic or distressing experience occurs, it may overwhelm normal coping mechanisms, with the memory and associated stimuli being inadequately processed and stored in an isolated memory network.

Shapiro noted that, when she was experiencing a disturbing thought, her eyes were involuntarily moving rapidly. She noticed further that, when she brought her eye movements under voluntary control while thinking a traumatic thought, anxiety was reduced. Shapiro developed EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. She speculated that traumatic events “upset the excitatory/inhibitory balance in the brain, causing a pathological change in the neural elements”.

As early as 1999, EMDR was controversial within the psychological community, and Shapiro was criticized for repeatedly increasing the length and expense of training and certification, allegedly in response to the results of controlled trials that cast doubt on EMDR’s efficacy. This included requiring the completion of an EMDR training program in order to be qualified to administer EMDR properly, after researchers using the initial written instructions found no difference between no-eye-movement control groups and EMDR-as-written experimental groups. Further changes in training requirements and/or the definition of EMDR included requiring level II training when researchers with level I training still found no difference between eye-movement experimental groups and no-eye-movement controls and deeming “alternate forms of bilateral stimulation” (such as finger-tapping) as variants of EMDR by the time a study found no difference between EMDR and a finger-tapping control group. Such changes in definition and training for EMDR have been described as “ad hoc moves [made] when confronted by embarrassing data”.

A 2000 review argued that the eye movements did not play a central role, that the mechanisms of eye movements were speculative, and that the theory leading to the practice was not falsifiable and therefore not amenable to scientific inquiry. It went on to refer to EMDR as “pseudoscience”, citing non-falsifiability as one of several hallmarks of pseudoscience that EMDR met. As discussed in 2013 by Richard McNally, one of the earliest and foremost critics: “Shapiro’s (1995) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) provoked lively debate when it first appeared on the scene in the late 1980s…. Skeptics questioned whether the defining ingredient, bilateral eye movement, possessed any therapeutic efficacy beyond the imaginal exposure component of EMDR…. A 2001 meta-analysis suggested that EMDR with the eye movements was no more efficacious than EMDR without the eye movements (Davidson & Parker, 2001), implying that “what is effective in EMDR is not new, and what is new is not effective” (McNally, 1999, p. 619).

Although controlled research has concentrated on the application of EMDR to PTSD, a number of studies have investigated EMDR therapy’s efficacy with other disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, and somatic disorders such as phantom limb pain.

The Unanswerable Question Of Beyond

My pen-name is ISOBEL:   Both my brother and I have encountered Mother (incredibly happy) several times after she died, and I find it difficult to doubt that life continues in the after-death state.  However questions remain.  Scientists more often than not ridicule the suggestion that such a thing is even possible.  Most of my family and friends are embarrassed to even discuss the matter.

But a personal question:  You have said that everyone in that “place” is happy, because the absence of negative energy  (vibrations) in the emotional environment does not enable its expression or even its existence at the individual level.  That is, negativity does not exist, any more than a colour we have never seen could exist in the physical world.  We could not process it and make sense of it.   It would be alien.  However, Des, you are claiming that in the after-death state every human being cozies up and agrees with every other.  Surely historical and cultural and political differences over many generations make that unlikely.

In my life no medium has ever been able to answer that question to my satisfaction.  [Isobel does not come from a principally English-speaking country, so with permission I have partly rephrased her questions.]

DES:    Then you have come to the right door, Isobel.  In that place (which more correctly is a different frequency of vibration occupying the same space) people congregate in large emotional groups.  A natural affinity makes this inevitable.  In other words, love in all its various guises, transforms every human being who dies.  Only in the physical world do we encounter the savagery, self-indulgence, elitism and indifference to suffering that the presence of negative energy likewise makes inevitable.  Only those we have “loved” (family, friends, children, people who have helped or supported or guided us, even our pets) will register on our senses.  Nobody else can even be discerned.

Boring?   On the contrary.  It is fiercely creative.  We re-examine our entire physical life (or at least its most significant currents) together with others in our emotional group.  As we do so we explore ourself;   the various dimensions that make up each individual human being.

In this way every emotionally intimate coming together of people around the world is again experienced by them.  Exclusive relationships are deepened and further lessons taken from them.  Groups within groups within groups therefore exist, ceasing to register with one another as emotional distance increases.

Every individual becomes accountable, responsible to himself or herself.  Every personality is a self-creative organism.

What about the loner, or the unfeeling killer, or the person who has been taught self-hatred?   These people have no option but to love and respect themself.  No other emotion exists.  (If you love yourself, you express that emotion into your surroundings and love others;   a tendency that can be discerned even on the physical plane.)

But a final word.  Immediately after shedding your physical envelope (a bit like removing your shoes at the door), you gravitate away from negativity only slowly, and so merge with Spirit in stages that are uniquely appropriate to you.  A personality in this phase of transition is considered to be neither in physical nor Spirit.

How do I know all this?  I have only to ask, and an answer is provided in whatever detail I require.  That’s what my particular type of mediumship or psychism is of course.  Occasionally I disagree with the response, or even fail to understand – but that is accepted as inevitable.

If I am Rejected By Everyone What Can I Do?

GARTH: Why should I be rejected by all my family members? People look for reasons to dislike me. Why have so many of my “friends” become ill or died, some quite young?

DES: You have attracted to yourself what you MOST need in this lifetime. Once you have adapted/grown to the extent you no longer need those particular learning experiences (once they no longer stress you) you will find rejection happens very much less often. Mother Nature is perfect. Things happen for a reason.

The physical world is the only place where negative energy is present, such as conflict/fear/anger/cruelty/greed. In this place we are forced to go through life deciding whether to do the “right” thing or the “wrong” thing, and in the process we uniquely create ourself. That is, our own free will creates us, moment by moment. Reincarnation gives us one physical life after another. We create a different aspect of ourself every time, and so learn to be better and wiser human beings.

It’s a bit like children at school. A five-year-old cannot suddenly be a fifteen-year-old. Life experiences year after year give wisdom and maturity and sophistication. A fifteen-year-old will express more potential and responsibility. One or two may even progress as far as a Nobel Peace Prize.

What Is The Physical World According to The Book Beyond?

Margaret Mills:  A philosophical question I have encountered over the years goes like this.  In a world that is ordered up by the intricate perfection of nature why are we never given unambiguous, absolute and unarguable proof of life after death?  This level of evidence could change the nature of the human condition, make every person free and safe and “immortal”, and even make the fighting cages of religion unnecessary.  Common sense suggests that if some measure of proof is offered by mediums and others, then total proof must be available.  Why is it withheld?  Skeptics come up with their own answer:  Forget the mediums.  It is all just a trick of the mind or wishful thinking.


Des:  I am told that the value of the physical world is that it encapsulates each of us, entraps us in a cell of aloneness in which we are never safe, never comfortable, never in control, never complete, and never in possession of the facts making our circumstances understandable.  In this fraught and toxic place we must struggle to survive.  We must also search ourself in order to find answers to the many dilemmas we face – for in doing so we define and create our own uniqueness (a dimension of growth as important as spiritual evolvement).  We contribute to this process second by second, emotion by emotion, thought by thought, action by action.  We put our own interpretation on every event and every moment.  Unanswered questions are part of this.  Compared with life in spirit, growth is almost instantaneous.  At the end of our physical life we are what we create.  The aloneness ensures every human being is different from every other.


None of this can be done after our death, in the gentle estates of spirit where mind flows into mind and where support and love replace the sometimes brutal conflicts of physical.  These are the two sides to the human coin.  Each is infinitely precious, individually as well as collectively, in the unfoldment of the species.  Very much more detail is to be found in the pages of BEYOND.  (Incidentally, religion is simply another way in which emotional programming, personal interpretation and free will feed individualization.)

Why Are So Many Horrible Things Happening In The World?

Several people have contacted me, pointing to “the horrible things” that have been sweeping the planet:  “Despite what you explained, I can see nothing logical or positive about 70,000 people dying in the Syrian conflict, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, the Boston marathon bombing, and many other cruel events carried out by individuals that seem to be getting more commonplace.  Why, why, why at a time when we were promised an era of change in the world?”


DES:  Look in the mirror.  You are making it happen – as we all are.  Many people in many countries acknowledge that an “energy” has come upon the planet and will increase as the years go by.  That force, as part of a delicate balance ordered up by Mother Nature or natural law (by whatever name), facilitates and enables every individual and group of individuals.  We hold POWER in our hands that was not there before.  We can CREATE what was impossible in the past.  We can STEER human destiny in a way that has always been beyond our reach.  Our planet is now OUR responsibility for the first time.  We have grown up!


So … what are we doing about it?  Because the physical plane has always been comprised of both negative and positive energy, and because free will always has the final say (individually and therefore collectively), the entire spectrum of our behaviour is being empowered by the changing energy.  The expression of positive, loving, giving, empathic behaviour is progressively being boosted.  The same principle feeds negative behaviour so that egotism, materialism, elitism, self indulgence, hatred, jealousy and discrimination increasingly bolster one ideology or another.  In some cases primitive appetites are being kindled and fuelled.

Is The Book Beyond Deceitful?

Stephanie Greenham.  Desmond wrote, earlier in this blog, “The international skeptics have accosted me because ‘communication with so-called dead spirits is not scientifically provable.  Therefore the claim is nothing more than deceit.  We do not condone deceit’.”


Having faced skepticism from people I love and respect within my family group, and from favourite colleagues and some friends, for most of my life, I nevertheless continue to share my opinions and experiences.  Each and every experience we have with spirit is an amazing gift that is 1000% real for that person.  It’s as real as getting up in the morning, watching a sunset, cuddling a small child.  My question is simple.  How can any skeptic scientifically prove a person’s shared experience of spirit is deceitful?  Although skeptics have their own rights, and energy and thoughts around the phenomenon, if they are not open to what is presented to them, perhaps they are looking in the wrong direction.  Spirit can contact us in such subtle ways:  The presence of a beautiful scent, that stops you in your tracks whilst gardening alone, although the magnificent rose you purchased has no scent.  Weeks after the family dog passes away, you sense and smell your beloved pet.


Other delicate energies can take the form of visions, messages within dreams.  I have three children, and years after they arrived I dreamt I gave birth to a baby boy.  It was so vivid.  This was 10 years after a tubal ligation, so I knew the message was not directed to me.  A week or so later my daughter confirmed her pregnancy, and in due course my wonderful grandson, Jesse, was born.  Other less subtle encounters can also be presented to us.


All we can ever do is smile and share this gift that has so generously been handed to us, and keep loving the skeptic, and wish and hope he or she benefits as we have benefitted.  This is not deceit.  Love you my uncle, who himself has attended NZ Skeptics seminars.


Jean Douglas (White Buffalo Woman) channeled the following lines from spirit for me (Stephanie).

All is Learning all is moving on

All is perfection at each moment in your time in your creation

Our journey at this time is not to try and change another, no matter

what you may believe is best for them for it may not be their journey,

but to be the very best that each one of you can be on your journey

at this time in this life that you have chosen to learn

Your soul energy chose knowing the best journey for you to take to

create the best circumstances with the best people, friends and family

for you to create and to learn the best way in this Earth life journey

for you to move on, on your spiritual pathway. 

Channeled and given through the hand of Jean Douglas (White Buffalo Woman)


DES:  A skeptic cannot prove anything, because we all create our own unique belief structure driven by our own unique needs.  We are all different.  Furthermore it could be asked how the so-called scientific skeptic differs from the Buddhist, or the conservative Christian, or the Muslim, or the Zoroastrian, or the Theosophist, or the Rosicrucianist.  He does not differ.  Simplistically they all believe they are right and everyone else is wrong.  This is a very comfortable space to occupy, even a very lazy space.


One could argue there is a shade of difference between the skeptic and the others, a delicate nuance, because only the skeptic claims to be supported by an irrefutable, replicated consensus of proof:  “Proof is proof.  Facts are facts.  Science is science.”


So … We have already looked at sub-atomic physics, a field in which the leading edge of scientific enquiry relies on a framework of theories supporting theories supporting theories – none of them independently provable.  Therefore this branch of science is broadly accepted, even in the absence of definitive evidence.  Extrapolation is not definitive evidence.  But let us be fair, and go back several generation to language most people understand.  The most respected scientists in the world are instructing the community about blowflies.  The scientists’ authority is unquestioned.  Their credentials are impeccable:  “It has been proven that blowflies are produced from rotting meat.  As it breaks down, eggs and then maggots form within the decaying matter, and give rise to adult flies.  This is where blowflies come from.  A natural cycle of life can therefore be seen creating itself.”  Another claim that was paraded before the world as absolute and undeniable, was that no human being, throughout the history of the species, would ever travel at a speed exceeding 25 miles an hour (I have seen various figures quoted, all below 100 miles an hour), because to do so would crush the cardiovascular system and cause death.


Of course these assertions are rubbish.  As time passes and science evolves, other “facts” come and go, trumpeted as true and proven, only to be discarded as more modern principles and techniques take their place.  And so on.  Common sense tells us this will continue.  In fact there is no such thing as unchangeable scientific proof.  What is revered as an unshakable reality today will be derided as a pitiful joke by the next generation or the one after that.


As a result skeptics, who are blind to this fact, are accused of either arrogance or stupidity by a large percent of the world’s population.  But I think this is unkind.  The critics themselves are usually members of one religion or another, and typically make exactly the same claim:  “We are right and everyone else is wrong.”


Perhaps we should support and encourage those who disagree with us, and celebrate the fact they draw comfort and meaning from their interpretation of the truth:  “If they are happy I am happy for them.  It’s okay to have different opinions.”  But the foregoing is merely my view!

The Scientific Case for Beyond – The Book, based on EMDR and IADC

Des.  Many books have been based on information channeled by psychics from the after-death state, some of which went on to become international best sellers.


Conversations With God series by Neale Donald Walsch captured public imagination.  The Seth series by Jane Roberts was well-known in the 1970s and 1980s.  Ruth Montgomery’s books were salient in the mind-body-spirit genre from the 1960s through to the 1980s.  Edgar Cayce’s name was dominant during the last 50 years of the twentieth century.  The Spiritualist authors Maurice Barbanell and Arthur Ford continue to enjoy popularity in their field.


Science and psychology, however, rarely glanced in the direction of the after-death environment, due largely to deeply-ingrained professional prejudice:  “We know it’s just superstition, and we don’t investigate superstition”.


Fortunately there are exceptions. Allan L Botkin, PhD, Director of the Centre for Grief and Traumatic Loss in Libertyville, Illinois, encountered undeniable evidence while working for 20 years as a psychologist in a Veterans Administration hospital in Chicago.  His experiences of after-death encounters with combat veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm, were so compelling that his research was supported by a phalanx of psychological and psychiatric authorities – all internationally-acknowledged leaders in their field.  These included Dr Raymond Moody, Dr Bruce Greyson, Bill Guggenheim, and the theologian Professor Ralph Leonard.  Their findings were brought together by Professor R Craig Hogan.  Many, many other members of the psychological community joined their ranks as the journey continued.  In his 2005 book on “induced after-death communications” (IADC), Botkin discussed the fact that he and several dozen colleagues helped “many thousands of clients” make contact with spirit personalities.  He went on to state that “it worked for nearly everyone” with whom he conducted sessions.  The clients involved, and the research staff, possessed no psychic or mediumistic abilities whatsoever, and came from a broad spectrum of society.


The following case history published by Botkin is dramatic, complex and comprehensive, more so than is typical.  I lifted it from his files [and comprehensively rewrote it] to show what can be achieved with the technique.  The various cases discussed are not restricted to patients from the vet’s hospital.


During Client’s childhood his father physically and sexually assaulted him and his two sisters in the most appalling manner.  So great was his continuing trauma and anxiety that he had difficulty even discussing the matter with the psychotherapist.  Father would bring drunken friends home, who abused the terrified children at will.  One of Client’s sisters, while still a teenager, killed herself.  The other sister did the same just before Client presented for therapy.  During IADC, Botkin’s client came face to face with the sister who only recently committed suicide.  With tears in his eyes, he explained to Botkin how happy she looked:  “It’s the first time I’ve seen her happy, although she is sorry for the distress her suicide caused”.  Brother and sister went on to discuss other family members who died, and she provided encouragement and advice to him.  That night Client dreamed vividly that his father was begging forgiveness, as his sisters looked on from a distance.  Interestingly, Father was in an area of darkness, while the sisters were standing smiling in bright light.  In the dream the sisters then approached and said, “Forgive Father, not for him but for you”.  During Client’s next session with Dr Botkin, he confronted his father.  He found himself pushing the other away.  Father’s presence was offensive.  But the spirit personality looked so distraught.  For the first time Client felt an awareness that his father carried the suffering he had caused:  he lived it.  A discussion followed.  Later Client explained to Botkin:  “He seemed so pitiful, so sorry.  He kept repeating it.  He’d resorted to such appalling behaviour because that’s how his father treated him.  I really feel forgiveness is possible.  I know why he did these things.”  IADC therapy continued for several more sessions, before Client was completely reconciled and comfortable.  He told Botkin with a smile, that he would always take with him the love and warmth the sisters offered as they hugged him during his final session.


Another client, a psychologist, was a skeptic who nevertheless included IADC in her clinical practice.  So intrigued was she with the results she decided to contact Botkin.  She wanted to talk to her father, with whom there had been issues.  Without effort she made contact:  “He was younger and fitter, and looked quite peaceful, quite unlike the father I remembered”.  Client came by an awareness that, for all his shortcomings, Father had carried a deep committment to the family and done his best.  He mentioned he was calmly awaiting the arrival of his elderly wife, Client’s mother.  At the one-year follow-up, Client reported that emotionally her life was more balanced and comfortable as the result of the IADC.  No longer was the skeptic skeptical!


A further case of a skeptic undergoing an IADC experience, relates to a cardiac surgeon who loudly proclaimed, “The whole after-death thing is just a flight of fancy”, even before he knew what was involved.  He had been referred to Botkin by a group working with the grief process.  Client was a member of the group and continued to struggle unsuccessfully with the painful death of his brother five years before.  Discussing his distress, Client was sad, embittered and angry.  He needed someone to blame, an indication he was suffering from a fixation that was inhibiting a healthy resolution of the conflict.  His parents were the focus of his fury.  However the session was a complete success.  Afterwards he appeared tired but relaxed.  Almost reluctantly he smiled.  The tension was gone.  But abruptly, as though remembering his prejudices, he sat upright and snapped, “Yes, I was talking to my brother.  He said not to blame anyone for his death, he was okay.  But it was all imagination.  You don’t expect me to believe that stuff, do you?”  A short time later Botkin contacted the grief resolution group, and was informed the surgeon had improved so dramatically he was no longer a member.


A history professor appearing in Botkin’s files failed several times with IADC.  Assisted by Botkin she persisted.  Eventually she encountered her mother, whose death she continued to grieve.  The professor revealed that she was healed by a single sentence spoken by her mother, so powerful were the emotions that accompanied the words.  This is a well-known feature of IADC.  The deceased frequently carries with her very presence a strange comfort, a serenity, a sense that everything is okay and as it should be.  Sometimes no words are necessary.  At other times they provide guidance.  Almost always forgiveness and love and peace are conveyed.  Even the glimpse of a loved one, radiant with happiness, can heal and give a feeling of release that Client has sought for years.  There are many, many other case histories in Dr Botkin’s files.


As a specialist in psychotherapy and neurotherapy with the trance state, I regularly use the modality with clients.  I also developed a new delivery mechanism and protocols for both EMDR and IADC, so a person is able to entrance him- or herself and use Self-EMDR and self-IADC.  This enabled me to “follow” my wife when she died in 2007.