What is EMDR?

EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is an effective approach to treating trauma.

EMDR is Effective for Treating Trauma


EMDR—Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing—is a revolutionary therapy proven by research to be effective in the treatment and relief of a wide range of disorders. It is a simple, non-invasive patient-therapist collaboration in which healing can happen rapidly and does not involve the use of drugs or hypnosis.

What problems are helped by EMDR? Studies to date show a high degree of effectiveness with the following conditions:

  • trauma
  • fears
  • anxiety
  • childhood trauma
  • phobias
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • rape
  • victims of violent crimes
  • post traumatic stress
  • depression
  • overwhelming fears
  • panic attacks
  • low self-esteem
  • performance and test anxiety

What is the procedure?

The core of the procedure involves the client focusing on a pre-selected specific image or remembered sensations while the therapist uses “bilateral stimulation”. The types of bilateral stimulation include either guiding the client’s eye movements back and forth or using “beepers”; certain tactile or auditory stimuli which have been demonstrated to be effective. Each set of bilateral stimulation can last between several seconds to several minutes. After each set, the client is instructed to just notice whatever changes occur in the mind and body without controlling the experience in any way. The therapist then instructs the client to focus on a new modified image and once again performs the bilateral stimulation.

What happens during EMDR?

When disturbing experiences happen, they are stored in the limbic brain with all the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompany them. When a person is very upset, the brain seems to be unable to process and move on from the experience. Therefore, the negative thoughts and feelings of the traumatic event get “trapped” in the nervous system. Since the brain cannot process these emotions, the experience and distress stays in the nervous system where it causes disturbances in the normal emotional functioning of the person.

The EMDR technique does two very important things. First, it “unlocks” the negative memories and emotions stored in the nervous system, and second, it helps the brain successfully process the experience and reduce the distress associated with that experience.

The therapist works gently with the client, guiding him or her to revisit the traumatic incident. As images and feelings arise, the client’s eye movements are “matched” with the remembered events and then re-directed into particular movements that cause the release of the memories.

When the memory is brought to mind, the feelings are re-experienced in a new way. EMDR makes it possible to gain the self-knowledge and perspective that will enable the client to choose their actions, rather than feeling powerless over their re-actions.

How does it work? Several theories have been advanced to explain why and how such a seemingly simple method can have such dramatic and rapid results. EMDR might act as a form of accelerated information processing that unblocks the brain’s information processing system. EMDR may tap into the same mechanisms used in learning and memory now identified with REM sleep. Another possibility is that blocked processing is manifested as phase discrepancies between equivalent areas in the brain’s hemispheres and that the EMDR rhythmic intervention results in improved hemispheric communication with the result that the blocked material is finally processed.

What are the advantages of EMDR therapy?

Research studies show that EMDR is very effective in helping people process emotionally painful and traumatic experiences. When used in conjunction with other therapy modalities, EMDR helps move the client quickly from emotional distress to peaceful resolution of the issues or events involved.

Traditional therapies often focus on memories from the unconscious mind, and then analyzing their meaning to gain insight into the problem. EMDR clients also acquire valuable insights during therapy, but EMDR can short-cut the process and go right to the releasing stage.

Studies consistently show that treatments with EMDR result in elimination of the targeted emotion or memory. The memory remains, but the negative response is neutralized.

Research on EMDR

Fourteen controlled studies of EMDR make it the most thoroughly researched method ever used in the treatment of trauma! A recent study of individuals who experienced rape, military combat, loss of loved ones, disasters and serious accidents, found that 84-90% had relief of their emotional distress after only three EMDR sessions. Another study showed that EMDR was twice as effective in half the amount of time of standard traditional psychotherapeutic care. Another study of subjects with post traumatic stress revealed that the significant improvement they gained with the EMDR treatments were maintained for at least 15 months.

Although some people have dramatic responses in a short period of time, others will progress more slowly. However, the results will be equally effective and long-lasting.

Since the initial medical study in 1989, world-wide research has helped develop and evolve EMDR. To date, more than half a million people have benefited from EMDR therapy.

Note that EMDR is not hypnosis. You will not go into a trance or lose conscious control. Although EMDR is a simple procedure, it cannot be casually applied. Due to its powerful nature, it is essential for EMDR to be administered by a trained mental health practitioner in the context of psychological treatment.