What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful method of psychotherapy. To date, EMDR has helped an estimated two million people of all ages find relief from many types of psychological disturbances.

Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR decreases and eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety (see below). The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association endorse this as an effective treatment for PTSD. It is used by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Defense, and in other countries such as the UK and Israel.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach. It contains elements of many effective psychotherapies in structured protocols that are designed to maximize treatment effects. These include psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies.

EMDR is an information processing therapy and uses an eight phase approach to address the experiential contributors of a wide range of presenting symptoms or relational difficulties. It attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for the presenting problem, the current situations that trigger distressing emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health.

How Does EMDR Work?

No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. What is clear is that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. A past trauma can becomes ‘frozen in time’, and remembering the event 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. 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 not disturbing. 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.

What types of problems can EMDR Treat?

The research has established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress. Clinicians report a broad range of other issues are treatable with EMDR

  • eating disorders
  • performance anxiety
  • most types of anxiety disorders
  • (including social phobias & panic disorders)
  • complicated grief
  • pain disorders
  • stress reduction
  • addictions
  • physical & sexual abuse