What is EMDR?

EMDR is an evidence-based therapy that has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of trauma and anxiety, and is used to help clients overcome difficulties with depression and addictions. It is most well known for its effectiveness with PTSD, but it can also be effective with other problems such as relationship issues and more serious mental health conditions like psychosis and personality disorders.

It is based on the theory that adverse life experiences are so disturbing to the brain and body that they can’t be fully processed, even after the event itself has ended. This can cause the mind and body to respond as though the trauma is happening again, which is why people often experience nightmares, flashbacks or other symptoms that feel like they are occurring at the time of a trauma when it is not actually happening again. EMDR aims to resolve these symptoms by processing the memory in a way that makes it less disturbing, and helps a person move past the trauma.

In the first session, a therapist will assess your current symptoms to determine if you are a suitable candidate for EMDR. If you are, a full history will be taken and your therapist will explain the theory of EMDR. Then they will prepare you by teaching you self-care techniques to use during and between sessions, if necessary. This includes a “safe place” which is a guided visualization to a place where you feel safe and secure.

During the EMDR treatment, you will recall your target and focus on it while your therapist leads you through a set of rapid eye movements (or other forms of rhythmic left-right stimulation, such as tactile sensations or alternating sounds) while you are thinking about your target image. The therapist’s finger or other stimuli is placed on your head, or over your eyes or ears. This dual stimulation allows you to think about your target while keeping your attention focused on the stimuli and helping you to process and reframe the memory.

The therapist will ask you to report any physical sensations and emotions you feel during the procedure. This will be recorded and analyzed later as part of the evaluation. During phase 6, the therapist will work through any negative beliefs and emotional responses you have to your target, as well as any bodily tension or discomfort you are feeling. When these are resolved, the therapy will end with a closing sequence.

Results of the evaluation have been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals, and found that EMDR is a clinically effective and cost-effective approach to trauma therapy. Statistically significant and clinically important reductions in client mean scores on the IES(R), GAD-7, PHQ-9 and PCL-5 checklists were reported. There was no relationship between therapist level of accreditation and clinical outcome, and large effect sizes post-treatment were observed. The evaluation has been criticized for a lack of randomization and control, but it does provide important information about the effectiveness of EMDR in reducing a wide range of psychological and somatic symptoms.