EMDR Therapy

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. Through EMDR, resolution of traumatic and disturbing adverse life experiences is accomplished with a unique set of procedures and clinical protocols which incorporates dual focus of attention and alternating bilateral visual, auditory, and/or tactile stimulation. This process activates the components of the memory of disturbing life events and facilitates the resumption of adaptive information processing and integration. Using an integrated approach that takes into account images, thoughts, body sensations, and other sensory information, EMDR has helped millions of people move beyond trauma to lead healthier, happier lives.

How Does EMDR Work?

No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes "frozen in time," and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. The bilateral stimulation repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system. This assists the neurophysiological system (the basis of the mind/body connection) to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

Can EMDR Help Me?

EMDR has been recognized as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress by the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. EMDR is particularly well-suited for those who have experienced “single-incident” traumas, including:

  • Miscarriage/pregnancy loss
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Robbery/other crime
  • Car or other accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Combat trauma
  • Traumatic medical diagnosis and/or procedures

EMDR can also be used to treat:

  • Panic attacks
  • Complicated grief
  • Phobias
  • Pain disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Addictions
  • Childhood abuse and neglect

*This information was adapted from EMDRIA: The EMDR International Association. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about this therapeutic approach and whether it might be a good fit for you. To read more about EMDR, please visit the EMDR International Association site: www.EMDRIA.org.