top of page
Desert Dune

What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a powerful therapy for the treatment of trauma. This PTSD treatment is proven effective and often works faster than traditional counseling. EMDR therapy is validated by many controlled studies, which consistently find that EMDR decreases or eliminates the symptoms of trauma for the majority of clients. EMDR therapy can provide much-needed relief, whether from big traumas like abuse or assault, or smaller traumas, such as an unhealthy relationship or stressful job. 

How does EMDR work?

The brain cannot process information normally when a person is very upset. One moment becomes “frozen in time." Remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories interfere with how someone sees the world and relates to other people. 


EMDR seems to have a direct effect on how the brain processes information. Following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings associated with the event. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. EMDR seems similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. You see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

What is the EMDR session like?

The therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem. The client recalls the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., along with beliefs currently held about that event. While experiencing bilateral stimulation (often back-and-forth movement of the eyes), the client notices whatever comes to mind without controlling content. Eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs, for example, “I did the best I could.” During EMDR, intense emotions can arise, but most people feel less disturbance level by the end of the EMDR session.


How long does EMDR take?

One or more sessions are required to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate PTSD treatment. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many EMDR sessions are necessary.


How was EMDR developed?

In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically and, in 1989, reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Today, EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.


Who endorses EMDR?

The American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective PTSD treatment. EMDR therapy is found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and other international health and government agencies.


Information adapted from the EMDR International Association.

bottom of page