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Eye on a Cure

EMDR giving new hope for Post Traumatic Disorder sufferers.

WebMD Feature

Every night, insomnia and nightmares; every day, panic, anxiety, depression. These were the ruins of childhood and adolescence for Donna Bowers of Placentia, Calif., who was abused for 19 years by a close relative. Ten years of psychotherapy did little to ease her symptoms, the classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"My therapist admitted we had hit a wall and couldn't move past it," says Bowers, 44. "He referred me to a doctor who had just started using a new therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Within the first six sessions of EMDR, all of my symptoms left and haven't returned in eight years."

Though skeptics still criticize this unusual treatment, in which therapists wave their fingers in front of their patients' eyes, EMDR is gaining acceptance in the psychotherapy community. The approach was first developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., of the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.

While walking in a park in 1987, Shapiro noticed that when her eyes moved in a "rapid, ballistic, flicking" motion, unhappy thoughts became less disturbing to her. She soon began experimenting with ways of producing the same effect in trauma victims.