Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing:  What is EMDR?


Have you suffered from a traumatic event, and are struggling to move past it? Do you feel “blocked” by your trauma? One option that can help resolve your trauma is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, also known as EMDR.

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing?

According to the EMDR Institute, the technique involves using a combination of eye movements with a therapist-led technique that focuses on specific, traumatic memories to process with a client. As the client watches the therapist move a finger back and forth, the eye movements more readily allow a client to become more open and able to discuss those events. The idea is that the experience is similar to what one experiences in the rapid eye movement stage of a sleep cycle.

How Was EMDR Created?

Francine Shapiro is considered the originator of EMDR therapy. While taking a walk in a park in 1987, she suddenly had a negative, distressing memory occur while also experiencing eye movement. She found that the effect of the eye movements helped  desensitize her from the emotions associated from the memory. Shapiro conducted research studies and included therapeutic processing, which led to the creation of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

How is EMDR Practiced?

1. There are eight phases to an EMDR treatment plan. These include:

2. Taking a patient history and identifying key events to process.

3.-6. Learning different ways of handling stress appropriately.

7. Utilizing the EMDR technique on specific memories.

8. Keeping a logbook of anything that comes up during a week.

9. Assessing progress.

During the treatment plan, the client learns how to identify both negative beliefs and positive beliefs about themselves. By the end of the treatment, they will have been able to push through the block that is keeping them from healing.

Who Would Benefit from EMDR Therapy?

Anyone who has experienced trauma in their lives could benefit from EMDR. These can include:

  • Childhood experiences.
  • Physical or sexual abuse.
  • Experiencing or witnessing a violent event, such as a car accident.

In particular, EMDR can helpfully address symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as with those who have experienced violence in civilian life or through military experiences. In fact, the U.S. Veterans Administration now provides online clinical training in how to use the technique.

Are There Any Side Effects to EMDR Therapy?

Because EMDR treatment primarily focuses on unpleasant memories, having to experience those memories could be distressing. Also, someone experiencing EMDR treatment may have unexpected reactions such as emotional or physical sensations. After a session, a client may continue to have memories associated with the event, dreams, or even experience new memories that had previously been walled off. Practicing EMDR does not cause seizures.

Who Should Practice EMDR?

Because of the detailed nature of the EMDR process and the memories and experiences exposed, EMDR should only be practiced by a licensed practitioner trained in the technique.  The EMDR Institute has a searchable database of clinicians who are trained in the eye movement desensitization and reprocessing practice. They recommend clients do the following:

  • Talk with the clinician before making a final decision to work with them.
  • Check for credentials and training.
  • Make sure that the clinician is familiar with treating your trauma.
  • Get a feel for whether you are comfortable with the clinician and that you can trust them.

Trauma, left untreated, can cause a number of problems, including strained personal relationships, depression, and the potential for substance abuse. If you are struggling with the effects of a traumatic experience, including PTSD, consider eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It may allow you to be more open to your memories and the treatment provided by a therapist. EMDR can help you resolve these issues so that you can lead a fuller, healthier life.

Questions, Concerns, Thoughts?

I invite you to call me for a free 15 – minute phone consultation to discuss your specific needs and to answer any questions you have about anxiety, treatment and my practice. Please visit my website @ www.theanxietydocseattle.com or call me directly @ (206) 745-4933.