What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is an acronym for 'Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy'. 

EMDR is an evidened based trauma treatment modality developed by a leading American Clinical Psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1980's. 30 years of quality research has proven that EMDR which emphasizes on interhemispheric and cross-modality processing is one of the most empirically valid and successful treatments for people who suffer from PTSD, DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, PHOBIAS, PANIC ATTACK, TRAUMA, GRIEF & OTHER INTENSE EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS. It changes your brain by improving its functioning and substantially reducing its stress response by helping you lose the emotional distress and pain associated with traumatic events. 


EMDR was developed as a treatment for traumatic memories and now over 30+ years of empirical research has demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of PTSD. Those suffering from major traumas such as sexual or physical assault/trauma, combat experiences, accidents or the sudden death of a loved one can be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if certain symptoms exist. These include intrusive thoughts of the event; nightmares or flashbacks; avoidance of reminders of the incident and increased arousal, which can include problems such as sleep difficulties; angry outbursts; being easily startled or having difficulty concentrating.

Research has also indicated that medically unexplained physical symptoms, including fatigue, gastrointestinal problems and pain can also go along with this disorder. Anyone suffering from PTSD can benefit from EMDR therapy.

However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:

  • Sexual, Physical and/or Verbal abuse

  • Eating Disorders

  • Addictions

  • Complicated grief

  • Disturbing memories

  • Phobias

  • Pain disorders

  • Performance anxiety

  • Stress reduction

  • Panic attacks

  • Body dysmorphic disorders

  • Personality Disorders

  • Dissociative disorders

When a person is involved in a distressing event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to process the information like a normal memory. The distressing memory seems to become frozen on a neurological level. When a person recalls the distressing memory, the person can re-experience what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted or felt, and this can be quite intense. Sometimes the memories are so distressing, the person tries to avoid thinking about the distressing event to avoid experiencing the distressing feelings.

Some find that the distressing memories come to mind when something reminds them of the distressing event, or sometimes the memories just seem to just pop into mind. The alternating left-right stimulation of the brain with eye movements, sounds or taps during EMDR, seems to stimulate the frozen or blocked information processing system.

In the process the distressing memories seem to lose their intensity, so that the memories are less distressing and seem more like 'ordinary' neutral charged memories. The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) when your eyes rapidly moves from side to side. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all the different kinds of memories, whether it was what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt or thought.


The traumatic events in our lives feel so overwhelming that our ability to fully process and gain perspective is blocked. When our adaptive capacities are overwhelmed, EMDR facilitates reprocessing of the traumatic experiences to achieve adaptive resolution.

EMDR starts with history-taking and continues with the development of positive resources to help cope with overwhelming emotions and circumstances. Then traumatic experiences to target are identified and bilateral stimulation (BLS) is utilized to facilitate the reprocessing of these distressing experiences that block us from optimal functioning.

The core of EMDR treatment involves activating components of the traumatic memory or disturbing life event and pairing those components with alternating BLS. Distressing experiences can be reprocessed using eye movements, alternating bilateral sounds or tactile BLS (e.g. vibrations or tapping) that help to activate the associations linking interconnected memories.

Once activated, new information about improved capabilities and resources is linked with the distressing life experiences and their emotional, somatic and cognitive impact, to help overcome the unresolved issues that interfere with successful living.


The number of sessions depends upon the specific problem and client history. However, repeated controlled studies have shown that a single trauma can be processed within 3 sessions in 80-90% of the participants. While every disturbing event need not be processed, the amount of therapy will depend upon the complexity of the history. In a controlled study, 80% of multiple civilian trauma victims no longer had PTSD after approximately 6 hours of treatment. A study of combat veterans reported that after 12 sessions 77% no longer had post-traumatic stress disorder.


This depends upon the client's ability to "self-soothe" and use a variety of self-control techniques to decrease potential disturbance. The clinician should teach the client these techniques during the preparation phase. The amount of preparation needed will vary from client to client. In the majority of instances the active processing of memories should begin after one or two sessions.


No. There are a few distinctive differences between hypnosis and EMDR, which we would like to briefly highlight:

First, one of the major uses of hypnosis among clinical practitioners is to deliberately begin by inducing in the patient an altered state of mental relaxation. In contrast, when beginning EMDR mental relaxation is not typically attempted. In fact, deliberate attempts are often actually made to connect with an anxious (i.e. an emotionally disturbing as opposed to relaxed) mental state to desensitize and lower the distress with bilateral movements.

Second, therapists often use hypnosis to help a patient develop a single, highly focused state of aroused receptivity (Spiegel & Spiegel, 1978). In contrast, with EMDR attempts are made to maintain a duality of focus on both positive and negative currently held self-referencing beliefs, as well as the emotional arousal brought about by imaging the worst part of a disturbing memory. However, in this sense, EMDR does have a similarity to Spiegel's (Spiegel & Spiegel, 1978) split-screen cognitive restructuring technique.

Third, one of the proposed effects of hypnotizing a person is that they will have a decrease in their generalized reality orientation (GRO: Shor, 1979). This induced decrease in a person's GRO is often utilized in order to promote an increase in fantasy and imagination, perhaps by capitalizing on an increase in trance logic (Orne, 1977). In contrast, in EMDR attempts are made towards repeatedly grounding the patient by referencing current feelings and body sensations to prevent the patient from drifting away from reality. Specific encouragement/inducement is made towards rejecting previously irrational/self-blaming beliefs in favor of a newly, reframed positive belief with an increase in subjective conviction about that belief. Shapiro and Forrest (1997) and Nicosia (1995) have also noted additional differences between hypnosis and EMDR.


EMDR therapy has been extensively researched as effective for problems based on earlier traumas. In addition, reports from clinicians over the past 25 years have indicated that EMDR can be extremely effective when there are experiential contributors that need to be addressed. Read the book Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy by Shapiro and see if any of your problems are covered in the cases. Interview your clinician to ask her what experience she has using EMDR with your particular problem.


If stressful, negative experiences hit us when we are vulnerable, and we don’t receive the support and safety we need, the emotional and negative beliefs about ourselves can become “stuck” in our brains and debilitates our being when certain triggers happen as we go through life. At the time of the trigger we experience the same distress, pain, and sensations that we felt at the time the incident/experience happened. EMDR is very good at getting us “unstuck.” As the infographic above shows how our brain stores the distress before EMDR and how the information gets reorganized after EMDR to help us come up to date with who we are today and want to be as supposed to being stuck in the past. EMDR helps “unlock” the prison, allowing our brain to return to a healthy state. Figuratively speaking, you are then free to move, stretch your wings, and fly.

Looking forward to inspire you to be a better you!

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