What is EMDR Therapy and Who Can Benefit from It?

What is EMDR Therapy and Who Can Benefit from It?
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Find therapists best matched to your needs. Always free and confidential.

What is EMDR Therapy and Who Can Benefit from It

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a psychotherapy method that uses two-sided stimulation to help people overcome emotional distress linked to PTSD and other mental disorders. 

EMDR is based on several psychotherapy theories, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It was developed in late 1980s by psychologist Francine Shapiro to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. However, it has soon become used to relieve emotional distress linked to other mental health conditions. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is well-researched mental health treatment. Today, EMDR is recognized by various international health authorities such as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Some studies reveal that over 90 percent of single-trauma survivors had no PTSD symptoms after just three EMDR sessions. 

So, what makes EMDR so successful? 

How is EMDR Done?

EMDR is based on the theory that traumatic memories make changes in a person’s brain. Therefore, the treatment focuses on disturbing thoughts and emotions that result from a traumatic event rather than on trauma itself. 

Sudden stress causes the brain to stop processing information normally, which leads to negative thoughts and emotional pain.

EMDR therapy can reset your brain by replicating REM stage of sleep (by performing rapid eye movements) which the brain normally uses to process information. Research shows that EMDR can rewire neural connections in your brain making it work normally again.

Performing rapid eye movements while remembering a traumatic event allows the brain to process trauma and integrate it in the person’s experience. EMDR approach helps perceive disturbing experiences as less disturbing. 

Apart from moving eyes from side to side, bilateral stimulation can involve:

  •        tones delivered to both ears
  •        bilateral tapping movements 
  •        vibrations on both sides of the body

EMDR therapy involves eight stages of treatment:

1.     History

In the initial stage, the therapist will evaluate your history, including traumatic events, memories, and experiences. They will then develop a specific treatment plan based on your symptoms and specific memories.

2.     Preparation

During this phase, your therapist will educate you on EMDR, establish a client-therapist relationship, and teach you some coping strategies to use when upsetting memories arise. 

3.     Assessment

The therapist will identify the traumatic memories you need to focus on and ask you to:

    •        Choose an image that accompanies this memory 
    •        Identify a negative belief about yourself 
    •        Recognize related emotions and physical sensations related to that memory

They will also ask you to identify positive beliefs about yourself.

4.     Desensitization

In this stage, the therapist uses desensitization to reduce your disturbing emotional and physical reactions to traumatic memories. During desensitization, the therapist will instruct you to recall painful memories while moving your eyes from side to side (they can ask you to follow their finger).               

5.     Installation

The focus of this stage is strengthening the positive beliefs you identified in the assessment stage.

6.     Body Scan

Body scan is a meditative technique during which your therapist will instruct you to scan your body from head to toe to identify any residual negative physical sensations, so they can target them for further processing.

7.     Closure

Each EMDR sessions ends with this stage. During this phase, you will discuss the thoughts and feelings that arose during the session. Your therapist will remind you of coping strategies you learned in stage two. They may also give you homework, asking you to keep track of your experiences.

8.     Reevaluation

You will discuss the effectiveness of the treatment with the therapist at the beginning of each new EMDR session.

What Can EMDR Treat?

Although it was originally developed to treat PTSD symptoms, EMDR has been used to treat various other conditions such as:

    •        Generalized anxiety disorder
    •        Addiction
    •        Panic attacks
    •        Phobias
    •        ADHD
    •        Depression
    •        Stress 
    •        Self-esteem issues
    •        Chronic pain
    •        Grief


What are the Benefits of EMDR?

Many clients report that EMDR treatment helped them achieve calmness and self-control, enabling them to integrate traumatic experience into the current life context.

EMDR can help you:

    •       Identify and change negative thoughts invading your mind
    •        Alleviate PTSD symptoms 
    •        Relieve emotional and physical distress
    •        Feel more relaxed
    •        Improve your sleep patterns
    •        Boost self-esteem
    •        Improve concentration and focus


EMDR is an empirically validated trauma treatment that can help you develop strategies to address traumatic memories and come to terms with the experience. 

However, the benefits of EMDR go far beyond trauma resolution. EMDR can help you replace negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones, equip you with coping strategies, encourage personal growth, and improve your overall well-being.

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