What Is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful psychotherapy treatment method that is effective for resolving emotional difficulties caused by disturbing, difficult, or frightening life experiences.  When an upsetting, scary or painful experience happens, the memory of the experience may stay "stuck" or "frozen" in the mind and body.  The experience may return in a distressing and intrusive way.  This can result in symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, guilt, and/or behavioral problems.  We know that events such as accidents, abuse, violence, death, and natural disasters are traumatic, but even problems such as divorce, school/work problems, peer difficulties, failures and family problems can deeply affect a person's wellbeing.  

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way the brain processes information.  Most experts agree that the best way to get free from distressing symptoms is through exposure to the traumatic experience, by facing the memories or troubling events until they are no longer disturbing.  EMDR uses dual attention stimulation (DAS), which refers to the use of alternating right-left tracking that may take the form of eye movements, tones delivered to each ear, tapping, or handheld tactile pulsers.   After a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds and feelings when the event is brought to mind. The event is still remembered but is less upsetting.

What Does an EMDR Session Look Like?

EMDR is part of an integrative treatment approach and is often used together with talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy.  A typical EMDR session begins in a positive way by having the client use their imagination to strengthen their sense of wellbeing.  For example, they may be asked to imagine a calm or safe place, and a resource such as a protector, a nurturer, or a wisdom figure which will serve as a positive anchor throughout the session.   We then identify a specific problem as the focus of the session.  The client calls to mind the disturbing issue (what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc.) and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event.  Then dual attention stimulus (DAS) is applied while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client simply notices whatever comes to mind without judging or editing the thoughts.  The DAS is continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with a positive thought or belief about oneself.  During EMDR the client may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.  

How Long Does EMDR Take?

One or more sessions are required for me to understand the nature of the client's problem and decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment.  Then we will discuss the method and I can answer any questions the client may have about the process.  A typical EMDR session lasts from 60 to 75 minutes.  The type of problem and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment session are necessary.


For more information about EMDR, visit www.emdria.org or www.emdr.com