EMDR…What is that???

Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing aka EMDR.  Now that you know the full name, what you must be thinking is….what in the world is EMDR???

EMDR enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Now I don’t know about you, but I think most of us who have lived on this planet for any length of time have some disturbing life experiences! We could benefit from EMDR if those life experiences continue to disturb us in some way or if we have lingering symptoms that started when we experienced something disturbing. EMDR is described as an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma in particular, but also helps people who have anxiety, depression, phobias, and addictions.  It is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.  There are 8 phases of treatment with EMDR.  Here are the basics of each phase (check out the resources section of this post for where to find more detailed information about each phase):

  1. History and Treatment Planning – gathering relevant history of the problem and specific memories associated with the problem
  2. Preparation – client learns coping strategies for dealing with emotional disturbance outside of counseling sessions
  3. Assessment – identifying a scene or image from the target memory for processing along with a negative belief representing how the client felt at the time, and a positive belief of how the client would like to view self in the scene/image. Assessment also includes the client rating self on how disturbing the memory is to them, how valid the positive cognition is to them, and identifying any tension within their body
  4. Desensitization – the therapist leads the client in sets of eye movement (or other forms of stimulation) until client self ratings on above-mentioned scales reduce disturbance and body tension as well as increase association with positive belief
  5. Installation – goal is to concentrate on and increase the strength of the positive belief that the person has identified to replace his original negative belief
  6. Body Scan – the therapist will ask the person to bring the original target event to mind and notice any residual tension in the body. If so, these physical sensations are then targeted for reprocessing
  7. Closure – Ends every treatment session ensuring that the client leaves at the end of each session feeling better than at the beginning
  8. Reevaluation – Opens every new session checking to make sure that the positive results have been maintained, identifying any new areas that need treatment, and continuing reprocessing the additional targets

Therapists who use EMDR have gone through a series of trainings and supervised practical experiences using EMDR, so they are well-versed in using the protocol.

Think you may need EMDR therapy?  Check out this link to find a therapist near you trained in EMDR.

Are you a therapist and want to get trained in EMDR? Check out this link to find trainings near you.

Resources for more detailed info about EMDR:

  • http://www.emdria.org
  • http://www.emdr.com
  • A full description of the theory, sequence of treatment, and research on protocols can be found in F. Shapiro (2001) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing:  Basic principles, protocols and procedures (2nd edition) New York: Guilford Press.


By: Adrianne Trogden



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