Eye Movement Therapies & Science….

Eye Movement Integration Therapy (EMIT) was developed by Connie-Rae and Steve Andreas. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro. Both EMIT and EMDR are complex and specific desensitizing treatment methods.

Eye Movement (EM) therapies desensitize patients to anxiety and integrates information processing. Adaptive information processing is the theoretical framework for both EMIT and EMDR. It addresses factors related to both pathology and personality development. Adaptive information processing contributes to orienting responses (ORs), which involve retrieving information from previous experiences and integrating them into a positive emotional and cognitive schema.

A dual-attention stimulus, such as eye movement, is an integral component of EM therapies because it induces certain physiological conditions that activate information processing. Eye movements may unblock the information-processing centres of the brain, creating a connection between stored information on previous events and adverse outcomes that is used to generate a response to a current stimulus. Subsequently aroused relaxation responses or a new series of physiological responses reconnect to the stored information on previous adverse experiences, and the new information is reintegrated.

The nature of the dual-attention stimulus is different between EMIT and EMDR. This is due to the variations in the theoretical bases for the neural access that they each seek to achieve. EMIT uses very selective eye movements to allow access to the areas of the brain that may be maintaining/sustaining the negative cognitions that are problematic for the client. These eye movement locations correlate very closely to the research associated within NPL’s visual accessing cues. It is commonly acknowledged that EMIT is a far “kinder and gentler” approach to treatment, as it allows the eye movement transitions to travel at a pace comfortable to the client (as long as the eyes are tracking the stimulus). In contrast to EMIT, EMDR uses very saccadic eye movements that are paced at the fastest that the client can accept. EMDR also uses horizontal eye movements only. Both EMIT and EMDR have been providing clinical benefits now for almost thirty (30) years. Whilst EMDR has maintained a strong focus on PTSD (and some of the issues underneath it), EMIT has also become a methodology that is assisting within a far wider range of clinical presentations.

One of the most prolific and recognised authors (and clinicians) regarding EMIT is Dr Danie Beaulieu. She notes that the memories that a person establishes by means of the amygdala (without going through the hippocampus first), are usually fragmented, as there is no narrative often behind them. These memories are then saved within the “senses”. Different people (personalities) often find these memories get “stuck” within those same “senses” – and not always the same ones. In order to recover from trauma, the memories from the hippocampus must be integrated with the memories of the amygdala. This is a normal process of the brain in order to integrate memories. EMIT is able to achieve this integration process via its selective use of eye movements. Dr Beaulieu expressed the opinion, in 2005, that EMIT allows the person to access multi-sensory contact with both trauma and positive memory traces – thus leading to the integration.

There are now two published research studies on EMIT and Beaulieu has completed two non-peer reviewed research reports (Beaulieu, 2003; Struwig & van Breda, 2012; van der Spuy & van Breda, 2018). Beaulieu (2003) looked at reports conducted on 57 adults where she collected data from seven practicing clinicians. Struwig and van Breda (2012) conducted mixed-method research on the use of EMI on 12 adolescents ages 14-16 who lived in a residential facility in South Africa. A replication study using a mixed method approach explored the use of EMI for treating trauma in early childhood and was completed by van der Spuy and van Breda (2018).

The findings from these studies indicated there was a significant improvement in trauma related symptoms after one session of EMIT based pre and post measurement using the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC) and the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Young Children (TSCYC) (Briere, 1996; Briere, 2005; Struwig & van Breda, 2012; van Breda & van der Spuy, 2018). The areas where the results indicated significant difference pre and post-test were: anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, and dissociation (Struwig & van Breda, 2012; van Breda & van der Spuy, 2018).

Even though there are only a few researchers who have studied the effectiveness of EMIT, there are more and more clinicians utilizing EMIT throughout the world. Beaulieu stated, “for the public mental health care provider facing financial restrictions, rapid, effective treatments are equally high priority”.