Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a complex, integrative method of individual psychotherapy in which the therapist guides the client through a procedure to access and resolve troubling experiences and emotions. EMDR brings together elements of many psychological orientations, including psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, client-centered, gestalt, and bio-energetic approaches to psychotherapy.

EMDR is always woven into good overall psychotherapy. EMDR is often used to enhance or strengthen current stability prior to proceeding with processing any disturbing material. When processing disturbing material, EMDR is used to process all the information—thoughts, feelings, sensations and coping strategies—associated with the negative experience to support movement toward an adaptive resolution. This results in a reduction in the client’s distress, increasing the client’s confidence in his or her preferred belief system and the possibility of having more optimal relationships, personally, socially and professionally.

With successful EMDR treatment, the upsetting experiences are worked through to adaptive resolution. The person receiving EMDR comes to understand that the event is in the past, realizes appropriately who or what was responsible for the event, and feels more certain about present-day safety and the capacity to make good choices What happened is and can still be remembered by the person, but without distress. The person finds that new, more flexible behaviors feel possible and inviting. There is a new found sense of trust and safety that was missing before.

EMDR can be used to treat:

  • Trauma
  • Chronic Pain/Illness
  • Depression
  • Grief and Loss
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Relationship issues
  • Anger issues

It can also be used to enhance emotional resources such as confidence and self-esteem.

Research Findings in EMDR: EMDR is the most clearly researched psychotherapy method for effectiveness with posttraumatic stress disorder, having more double blind, placebo-controlled studies published in peer-reviewed journals than any other psychotherapy method. The EMDR International Association website lists a routinely updated summary of published studies.

How does EMDR work?

The underlying premise of EMDR is that traumatic and anxiety laden experiences are processed differently by the brain than are usual experiences. One theory of memory is that during severe stress a part of the brain responsible for modulating emotions (the amygdala) temporarily shuts down another part of the brain (the hippocampus) responsible for usual memory processing. The traumatic experience is trapped outside of the usual brain processing power, and EMDR allows the client to access the experience and transform it to declarative memory using the hippocampus. With EMDR the hippocampus may not be so shut down by the emotions evoked by the experience so that that the client can withstand while doing the processing. Distraction by and attention to the bilateral stimulation may play a part in helping the client experience the emotions as tolerable. How bilateral distraction to each side specifically facilitates processing of distressing experiences is not yet understood.

A comprehensive description of EMDR can be found in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, 2nd Edition (Shapiro, 2001)

Within EMDR, there are specific protocols for a variety of situations including single traumatic events, recent traumatic events, phobias, excessive grief, illness and somatic disorders and well as procedures to enhance emotional resources such as confidence and self-esteem.