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3rd SAS Battalion
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Ive just read the following paper which I found to an excellent explanation into the likely mechanisms behind EMDR:

"EMDR: A Putative Neurobiological
Mechanism of Action"

Robert Stickgold
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Paper URL: http://www.emdr.nl/acrobat/STICKG1.pdf

For those who don't have the time to read it, I will attempt to summarise it:

We normally process memories first into one part of our brain, and then into another. This process usually takes place during the part of sleep when we are under Rapid Eye Movement (REM).

During this part of sleep, a traumatic memory will pass from the hippocampus to the neocortex, in this process it goes from being highly charged and immediate, to contextual and semantic. The traumatic memory no longer feels like it happened yesterday, but that it was something that happened that we can learn a lesson from, it no longer has the charge it had when it happened.

In patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), their sleep patterns are disrupted for neurochemical and psychological reasons. These patients do not enter REM for the same length of time and in the same way as a normal person.

This means that traumatic memories are not sorted properly, they are not passed from charged part to the weakened part. The traumatic memories remain charged, therefore it's not unusual to have a Vietnam Veteran experience the emotion of a memory that happened thirty years ago as if it happened only yesterday.

Essentially, we have these stingful and hurtful memories keep popping up because the brain has not sorted them into the place where they become just lessons in life.

Now where does moving your eyes about (EMDR) play a part in this? Well there is growing evidence (since the 1970s) to show that ocular motility (jerking your eyes about) replicates the state of REM. Moving your eyes about replicates the state your brain is in when it moves the painful memory to the less painful part of your brain.

In conclusion, by thinking about something hurtful and rapidly moving our eyes (following EMDR proper procedure and with a therapist as Sadie08 rightly pointed out in the earlier EMDR post), the hurtful memory is passed to the less hurtful zone. Just like it should have been filed to the less hurtful zone in the first place.

How can this help us in the broader context of social anxiety? Well many of us will have our fears based on things that have happened in the past - events we both remember and don't remember. By neutralising these memories the anxiety caused by them should also become neutralised.

That's a brief summary of what the above report said, but I suggest anyone interested reads the report itself as I cannot do justice to a paper written by Harvard Medical School. From my own personal experience using EMDR, I have found that it does work to desensitise memories (EMDR is also a part of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)).

I hope this summary whets your appetite for more research into this and possibily trying it, we have all reached our anxiety through various roads so this may not work for everyone but it may, so keep an open mind.
 
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