What Is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy—or EMDR—is an evidence-based, non-cognitive approach to effectively treating a wide range of mental health issues. It’s particularly helpful when addressing trauma and other forms of emotional suffering arising from adverse life experiences. 

Unlike traditional forms of talk therapy, EMDR usually involves exploring a traumatic memory or event while engaging in a series of bilateral stimulation techniques that activate the brain’s natural ability to heal. For instance, a client may listen to oscillating tones, perform rapid eye movements, or hold tappers that create alternating tactile sensations in the hands. 

These Dual Attention Bilateral Stimulation techniques unlock the brain’s neuroplastic nature—its self-healing abilities—allowing it to reprocess difficult emotions, memories, and even physical sensations associated with trauma. In essence, EMDR identifies and treats core issues responsible for distress, helping clients heal on a neurological, emotional, and somatic level. 

EMDR’s Effectiveness Is Well-Documented

Originally developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy has become widely recognized for its ability to treat a host of issues. Organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the US Department Of Veteran Affairs, and the World Health Organization (among many others), acknowledge the efficacy of EMDR (1). 

From trauma and PTSD to anxiety and depression to substance abuse and disordered eating, EMDR has been proven to create sustainable results that go far beyond symptom management.

How Does The EMDR Therapy Process Work?

EMDR is a structured, eight-phase process that allows both the client and therapist to measure progress and adjust treatment as the therapeutic process evolves. It is also designed to give therapists a way of creating a treatment plan that is unique to each individual. 

This often consists of using a combination of mindfulness, imagery, and cognitive techniques, as well as emotional regulation skills, to help prepare for the deeper work of reprocessing traumatic memories. And it may include breathwork, mindfulness meditation strategies, visualization, and even somatic approaches like yoga and moving meditation. 

Moreover, in general, some form of talk therapy is also incorporated in the EMDR process. Talk therapy tends to build an avenue toward a greater sense of safety and trust that facilitates both EMDR and the healing process as a whole. 

Once a client is familiarized with the process and equipped with effective tools for self-regulation, the eye movement, desensitization, and reprocessing part of EMDR therapy can begin. 

The 8-Phases Of EMDR Therapy

  • Phase 1 – Assessment and development of treatment plan. Rather than just jumping right into EMDR sessions, it’s important for people to understand their trauma, the functions that certain triggers serve, and why some memories or reactions to stimuli are so intense. 
  • Phase 2 – Learning self-calming techniques. Clients need to develop sufficient coping strategies for managing overwhelming emotions, painful memories, and triggers (before, during, and after sessions).
  • Phase 3 – Guided visualization of memories. This entails the individual recalling a negative memory, image, belief, or bodily sensation associated with trauma or a disturbing experience. 
  • Phase 4 – Desensitization through Dual Attention Bilateral Stimulation. While the client focuses on the traumatic memory and related thoughts and feelings, the therapist uses bilateral movement/stimulation techniques (rapid eye movements, oscillating tones, alternating vibrations) and asks the individual to describe their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. 
  • Phase 5 – Reprocessing the traumatic memory and installation of positive ideas. The therapist carefully helps the client to shift their mind toward new and positive thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event. Alternating to this more optimistic outlook leads to resolution and healing. 
  • Phase 6 – Body scan for lingering somatic symptoms. This involves pinpointing and reducing any residual physical discomfort that may still be connected to the disturbing memory.
  • Phase 7 – Relaxation and debriefing. Through relaxation techniques, clients are helped to return to a state of balance. The therapist reviews the individual’s self-regulation skills, assesses if they need additional support, and encourages them to document any issue that may arise in between sessions.
  • Phase 8 – Reevaluating the overall progress and adjusting target. This carries over into the next session(s).

Through this process, individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their trauma and create a shift in how they respond to emotions, triggers, and reminders of the painful experience.

The Unique Benefits Of EMDR Therapy

In some ways, emotional suffering can be thought of as a splinter. If you remove it, the flesh regenerates with healthy, new growth. But if the splinter stays in and is irritated on a daily basis, the discomfort increases. Trauma is like that splinter—a wound that gets stored in the mind and body, changing how a person thinks, feels, and functions in the world.

Whereas most traditional therapeutic models focus on symptom management and cognitive change, EMDR creates healing on a neurological level, which is fundamentally more effective. 

Rather than treating surface issues, EMDR gets to the heart of the matter and removes that splinter instead of putting a bandage on it, robbing traumatic memories and experiences of their emotional charge. It also does that without forcing people to relive or discuss in great detail their worst experiences—thus eliminating the risk of doing more harm than good.

A Comprehensive Treatment

EMDR frequently works well in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), parts work (Internal Family Systems), and a number of other modalities. Because of its structured nature, EMDR therapy is often more brief, effective, and comprehensive in its approach to healing.

It gives clients and therapists a way to measure and visualize progress—and it doesn’t have to involve any homework between sessions. Moreover, EMDR has proven to be an effective form of treatment for a range of complex issues, including anxiety and depression, grief and loss, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, and trauma/PTSD. 

Why We Specialize In EMDR Therapy

We believe that EMDR is a life-changing modality for everyone involved. Clients get to see themselves progress and transform their lives in real time while therapists have the honor of guiding that journey and watching people heal.

Although all therapeutic modalities serve a noble purpose, EMDR simply achieves healing on a completely different level than most interventions. Its depth, scope, and effectiveness as a treatment strategy—particularly for trauma and PTSD—is almost unparalleled. 

Time and time again, we have seen clients struggling under the heaviest burdens make amazing changes through EMDR therapy. So we know it works!

Let Us Help You Change Your Life’s Trajectory

If you’re interested in EMDR treatment and looking for a therapist who can help you, please call (XXX) XXX-XXXX or email us for your free, 15-minute consultation to see how our EMDR specialists may be able to help you.

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