man receiving emdr therapy

How Does EMDR Work

The popularity of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has increased significantly in recent years, especially within the therapeutic and psychological fields. EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that helps people process and heal trauma and other difficult emotions. It can be used to treat a variety of issues, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse.

EMDR is a relatively new type of therapy, developed in the late 1980s by American psychiatrist Dr. Francine Shapiro. It involves the use of eye movements to help a person process and reprocess traumatic memories.

Shapiro theorized that when a person experiences a traumatic event, it can be locked in their nervous system and remain unprocessed, leading to intense emotions or physical symptoms. Through EMDR, these memories can be desensitized and reprocessed, allowing the person to find healing and relief.

Is EMDR an effective alternative to talk therapy?

One of the primary reasons for the increased popularity of EMDR is that it is relatively quick and efficient. Unlike traditional talk therapy, EMDR often only requires 8-10 sessions, compared to 15-20 for traditional therapies. This makes it a more cost-effective option for many people.

Furthermore, EMDR has been found to be effective in treating a wide range of issues. Studies have shown that EMDR is effective in treating trauma-related disorders, anxiety, depression, phobias, and even eating disorders. Additionally, research has suggested that EMDR can be helpful for those who struggle with addiction and chronic pain.

EMDR has also been found to be an effective treatment for children, adolescents, and adults, with studies showing that EMDR is as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy in treating posttraumatic stress disorder in children.

Finally, many people find EMDR to be a particularly helpful therapy because of its interactive, non-verbal nature. It is often described as a “body-based” therapy, as it relies on the use of physical movements to help access and process negative memories and emotions. This can be especially helpful for those who struggle to express themselves verbally.

woman in an EMDR session

What happens during an EMDR session?

The first step of an EMDR session is to identify the target issue the client wishes to address. This could be a disturbing event, a long-held negative belief, or a symptom such as anxiety or depression. The therapist will help the client recall the distressing memory or event in vivid detail, including its associated physical, emotional, and cognitive components.

The goal of EMDR is to help the client process unprocessed memories and make sense of the traumatic event. By reprocessing the event, the client is able to gain insight into the disturbing memory and gain closure. This may help them to better manage their emotions and become more resilient in the face of future stressors.

Once the therapist has a better understanding of the patient’s situation, they will then use EMDR techniques to help the patient reprocess their disturbing experiences and heal. The therapist will guide the patient through eye movements, tactile sensations, and/or auditory tones. 

The patient is asked to focus on the memory of the traumatic event while their eyes move back and forth, either following the therapist’s finger or a light bar. This bilateral stimulation is thought to help the patient reprocess the negative experiences, allowing them to gain a new perspective on the event and eventually gain closure.

During this process, new associations between thoughts can form, which can lead to a decrease in distress levels. These techniques are designed to help the patient process their distressing events in a healthy and positive way.

The mental health professional will then help the client summarize and integrate the unpleasant memories so that they can move forward with a new understanding and resolution. This is done by helping them to connect the new insights with the positive aspects of their adverse experience.

After the processing is complete, patients typically report feeling calmer and more relaxed than before they began treatment.

At the end of the session, the therapist will discuss the client’s progress and any further goals they may have. It is important to note that the EMDR process is not a one-time event. It typically requires multiple sessions in order to achieve the desired outcomes.


Benefits of EMDR

The benefits of EMDR are vast. It has been used to treat a wide range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and phobias. It can also help those who struggle with addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.

In addition to helping individuals process trauma, EMDR can also help them learn to cope better with stressful situations, reduce symptoms of depression, and gain a better understanding of their own thoughts and emotions. EMDR can also help individuals build self-confidence and strengthen their relationships with others.

EMDR is a powerful tool for those living with the lasting effects of traumatic experiences, as it can help to reduce the intensity of symptoms and improve overall mental well-being. Here are some of the key benefits of EMDR:

  • Improved concentration and focus: People who use EMDR often report an improvement in their ability to concentrate and focus on tasks. This is due to the fact that EMDR encourages the person to focus on the present moment rather than the painful memories associated with their trauma.
  • Reduced anxiety and depression: EMDR is often used to help reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression. Successful treatment helps to process the trauma, which can reduce the intensity of the associated symptoms.
  • Improved relationships: EMDR can reduce the intensity of emotional memories associated with trauma and improve the person’s ability to form and maintain relationships.
  • Improved coping skills: EMDR can improve a person’s coping skills, which can help them to better manage their emotions and reactions to stressful situations.
  • Improved self-esteem: EMDR can improve a person’s self-esteem and overall well-being. It can help the person feel more empowered and manage their emotions.

One of the most important benefits of EMDR is that it often results in faster symptom relief compared to traditional talk therapy alone. This means fewer sessions are required in many cases, allowing individuals to experience quicker resolution from their symptoms.

Additionally, EMDR helps people identify underlying causes for their problems which can lead to greater understanding, increased insight, and improved self-awareness about how these issues have impacted them emotionally.

Finally, EMDR can provide long-term benefits as well; research has shown that the effects tend to remain even after treatment ends if proper coping skills are developed during therapy sessions.

woman after her EMDR sessions

Conclusion: Effectiveness & Safety

EMDR has been found to be effective in treating a variety of different mental health conditions, from phobias and panic attacks to chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

A review of the literature by researchers in 2013 suggested that EMDR is more effective than other psychotherapies in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other studies have also found that EMDR is effective in treating anxiety and depression.

It is believed the process helps people reprocess their traumatic memories in a way that reduces their intensity so they can work through them. Research has found that EMDR is as effective as other forms of talk therapy for trauma treatment and can reduce symptoms more quickly than traditional talk therapy.

The safety of EMDR has also been studied extensively, and its use has not resulted in any significant adverse events or negative psychological effects. While the exact mechanism underlying its effectiveness remains unknown, it is considered safe with minimal risks associated with its use.

The therapist should assess each individual’s unique situation carefully before establishing a treatment plan, ensuring that it is appropriate for their condition and history. Additionally, clients should always feel comfortable communicating any concerns they have about the procedure during sessions with their therapist.