What is the Theoretical Basis for EMDR?

Shapiro (1995) developed the Accelerated Information Processing model to describe and predict EMDR’s effect. More recently, Shapiro (2001) expanded this into the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model to broaden its applicability. She hypothesizes that humans have an inherent information processing system that generally processes the multiple elements of experiences to an adaptive state where learning takes place. She conceptualizes memory as being stored in linked networks that are organized around the earliest related event and its associated affect. Memory networks are understood to contain related thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations. The AIP model hypothesizes that if the information related to a distressing or traumatic experience is not fully processed, the initial perceptions, emotions, and distorted thoughts will be stored as they were experienced at the time of the event. Shapiro argues that such unprocessed experiences become the basis of current dysfunctional reactions and are the cause of many mental disorders. She proposes that EMDR successfully alleviates mental disorders by processing the components of the distressing memory. These effects are thought to occur when the targeted memory is linked with other more adaptive information. When this occurs, learning takes place, and the experience is stored with appropriate emotions able to guide the person in the future.