EMDR Therapy

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What is EMDR ?

A natural healing protocol that integrates all aspects of experience, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy which allows a person to alleviate emotional discomfort due to difficult experiences that they may encounter throughout their lives.


When we experience something difficult, the way our brain store these memories affects how we view ourselves, others and the world we live in. EMDR therapy takes those memories and all the information that is inside (images, sounds, thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations) and taps into those memory networks that are creating that emotional discomfort, allowing them to be processed and stored adaptively.


After these memories reach an adaptive resolution, we begin to see a healthier response for difficult life events and an increased sense of self-worth. EMDR therapy allows a person to move past those life experiences that have become the root of our limiting beliefs and pain and live a more peaceful life.

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Frequently asked questions

How does EMDR work?

E.M.D.R. therapy is an eight-phase treatment approach. During memory reprocessing, the client recalls a disturbing event for a short period (for example, 30 seconds) while simultaneously undergoing bilateral stimulation that can consist of moving the eyes from side to side, vibrations or tapping movements on different sides of the body, or tones delivered through one ear, then the other, via headphones. New associations emerge and often become the new focus of attention. No homework is required, and the client is not asked to describe the memory in detail. The goal is to let the brain’s information processing system make new internal connections as the client focuses on the thoughts, emotions, memories and other associations that are freely made during the sets of bilateral stimulation. During the brief check-ins there are no right or wrong answers. You're the observer and just allow what you notice to move freelyand try not to control. Often there may be a quick check in at the beginning of session to make sure other outside stresses from the day that might hinder the EMDR session.

Do I have to go into detail about my stressful event/memory?

No. This is NOT prolonged exposure therapy where the client intensely focuses on describing the traumatic memory in detail, as if reliving it. The narrative is usually repeated two to three times within the therapy session, and it is recorded. The E.M.D.R. component used only standard therapy sessions and no homework. You may wonder, "but will that be effective if I don't tell you all the things?" A study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health that was conducted by a well-known exposure therapy researcher (Rothbaum et al., 2005) found that both E.M.D.R. and prolonged exposure were effective, and stated: “An interesting potential clinical implication is that E.M.D.R. seemed to do equally well in the main despite less exposure and no homework.

Follow your fingers/the light with my eyes and I'll start to feel better?

I get it. This sounds like a bunch of Wooy-ness and There's a lot of controversy over this in the field. BUT it's in the sceince! These studies explored various theories about the effects of eye movements, and two dominant theories have emerged: that eye movements (1) interfere with working memory processes (van den Hout et al, 2011) and (2) link into the same processes that occur during R.E.M. sleep (Stickgold, 2002). In support of these theories, eye movements have been shown to decrease the emotionality and vividness of memories, create physiological relaxation responses, facilitate access to associative memories and lead to an increase in recognition of information that is true. According to the working memory theory, benefits occur when the limited capacity of the working memory is taxed by the simultaneous focus on the dual attention task (eye movements) and the negative memory. Because of the limited resources, the memory becomes less vivid, less complete and less emotional. This theory is supported by numerous randomized studies that have all shown that lateral eye movements reduce the self-rated vividness or emotional effect of unpleasant autobiographical memories (for example, Barrowcliff et al., 2003, 2004; Engelhard et al., 2010. 2011; Kavanagh, Freese, Andrade and May, 2001; Maxfield, Melnyk and Hayman, 2008; Schubert et al., 2010; Van den Hout et al., 2001, 2011). The theory that eye movements link into the same processes that occur during R.E.M. sleep is supported by research demonstrating the effects of eye movements on physiological states and memory retrieval. Eye movements have been demonstrated to induce a state of relaxation, or decreased psychophysiological arousal, in nonrandomized (Elofsson et al., 2008; Sack et al., 2008) and randomized (Barrowcliff et al., 2004; Schubert et al., 2011) studies using physiological measures. One hypothesis is that this relaxation response is a reaction to changes in the environment, part of an orienting response that is elicited by the shifts of attention caused by the repeated bilateral stimulation, which links into processes similar to what occurs during R.E.M. sleep (Stickgold 2002, 2008). Further support for the R.E.M. theory is found in numerous randomized trials that indicate that bilateral saccadic eye movement enhances retrieval of episodic memory, increases recognition of true information and improves certain measures of attention (for example, Christman et al., 2003, 2006; Kuiken et al., 2002; 2010; Parker, Relph and Dagnall, 2008; Parker, Buckley and Dagnall, 2009; Parker and Dagnall, 2010) Still, controversy remains regarding why E.M.D.R. works. It’s possible that both the working memory and R.E.M. theories are correct and that the mechanisms interact synergistically. We await the results of randomized controlled trials to further determine what role eye movements and other bilateral stimulation make to treatment outcome independent of the rest of E.M.D.R. procedures.

What all does EMDR help with?

The studies to date show a high degree of effectiveness with the following conditions:

  • Lack of Motivation
  • Depression
  • Fear of Being Alone
  • Unrealistic Feelings of Guilt and Shame
  • Difficulty in Trusting Others
  • Trauma
  • Depression
  • Anxiety or Panic
  • Phobias
  • Fears
  • Performance and Test Anxiety
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Relationship Problems
  • Brooding or Worrying
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Injury of a loved one
  • Car Accident
  • Fire
  • Work Accident
  • Assault
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Natural Disaster
  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Witness to Violence
  • Childhood Abuse
  • Victims of Violent Crimes
  • Childhood Trauma
  • Physical Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Post Traumatic Stress
  • Bad Temper

How long is EMDR treatment?

There are some people that discuss that studies show single event trauma can be processed in as little as 3 sessions. However, the answer is: It depends. You are an individual and no two people are going to travel the same journey. Working to establish good coping skills and evaluate what needs to be targeted before diving into bilateral stimulation are highly recommended. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes. Much like how your phsyical wounds' healing rates changes from person to person, so doesn't your brain! Found on, http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/

Can you tell me more detail about what EMDR is?

Of course! EMDR therapy was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro. It is based on the theory of adaptive information processing theory, which holds that our minds and brains have a natural healing system that strives to process all experience to its most adaptive state. Fully processed experiences are accessible to us in long-term memory, which contains important data about what we have learned so that this information is available to help us navigate new experiences. These fully processed memories are clearly about something that is over and in the past when we think of them. However, when we have an experience that is especially stressful or disturbing, our minds are unable to fully process that experience at the time it occurs. The unprocessed or partially processed experience is dysfunctionally stored in memory and may contain the emotions, sensations, physical states (body memory), beliefs, and other aspects of what we experienced at the time. These are the memories that continue to feel upsetting today. The beliefs, emotions, and body experiences that are contained in these memories about the past continue to effect how we experience ourselves and our lives in the present. Using a standardized protocol and bilateral stimulation (eye movements, taps, or sounds), EMDR therapy facilitates our brain’s natural way of healing so that we can process now what could not be processed at the time that the experience occurred. Naturally and fully processed, those disturbing experiences can truly be in the past, stored in our long-term memories, as useful information to guide us in the future.

What does an EMDR session look like?

When engaging in the bilateral stimulation phases of EMDR, it looks a little different than your typical psychotherapy session. As you travel through your difficult life experiences, you maintain a dual awareness (one foot in the past and one foot in the present). Which means, you are in the driver’s seat and in full control while being safely supported by your therapist. Many people who have been in talk therapy for years, find that EMDR provides a significant decrease in emotional reactivity after just a few sessions. You'll be asked to give very brief feedback about what you're noticing vs in a typical session where you're doing a lot of talking. We often use the analogy that compares what was happens to either watching a movie or being on a train, just watching/observing, and being asked what do you notice or what things pop up. Prior to engaging in the bilateral stimulation, time should be spent in sessions just like any other form of therapy where you're gathering history, buidling coping skills and resources, and increasing one's window of tolerance.

I don't have any trauma, how will EMDR help me?

A lot of people assume that to have experienced trauma is to have experienced the stereotypical events that describes more dramatic types of trauma: violence, war, murder, rape, robbery, and recurrent sexual or physical abuse. Often this is referred to as "Big T" trauma and it is usually is either a single-incident trauma of vast proportions or something society believes is big – like recurrent sexual or physical abuse. It’s something that’s noticeable; sometimes you read about it in the paper. However, more often everyone has experienced what's often called "Little t" trauma, or adverse life events. These events tend to be overlooked by the individual who have experienced the difficulty. This is sometimes due to the tendency to rationalize the experience as common and therefore cognitively shame oneself for any reaction that could be construed as an over-reaction or being “dramatic.” Other times, the individual does not recognize just how disturbed they are by the event or situation. Perhaps surprisingly, sometimes these events are also overlooked or dismissed by a therapist. This usually doesn't happen due to the therapist lacking empathy, but rather it occurs due to a lack of understanding about the importance of how these experiences impact a person’s functioning. Examples of less visible forms of trauma that happen are: non-life-threatening injuries, emotional abuse, death of a pet, bullying or harassment, loss of significant relationships, grief, postpartum depression, anxiety, embarrasment, betrayal, insecure attachment, childhood emotional neglect (often non-intentional) when a parent wasn’t emotionally available, racial or ethnic discrimination, verbal abuse, cyberbullying, surviving divorce, experiencing a medical crisis, spiritual abuse, emotional blackmail, and various other experiences. You can’t necessarily “see” the bruises, but these things are just as damaging your Big T trauma. They typically happen over the longer term—and they add up! These traumas occur at high rates and often are compounded by their accumulated effect. While one small ‘t’ trauma may not lead to significant distress, multiple compounded small ‘t’ traumas, particularly in a short span of time and/or occurring during developmental years are more likely to lead to an increase in distress and trouble with emotional functioning. These traumas may have occurred over the course of one’s life or condensed in the recent past. Evidence now concludes that repeated exposure to little “t” traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single big “T” traumatic event. In fact, it is likely that the reason many individuals present for psychotherapy is due to an accumulation of small ‘t’ traumas. Understand There Is No Such Thing As “Little Trauma”. Trauma is a fundamental feeling of threat. It’s a perceived lack of safety. And it’s different for everyone. When it comes to trauma, size DOES NOT matter. Trauma is more about the impact than the cause; it’s about how the trauma is “remembered” in the body. It is not up to us to judge, or quantify or size up the impact of someone’s trauma. The only person who can do that is the person who feels it.

What does EMDR have to do with Substance Abuse or Behavioral Addictions?

Research shows that all forms of trauma have a strong correlation to substance abuse. Substance Abuse and Behavioral Addictions or Compulsions fall into the same category for EMDR treatment. Behavioral Addictinsor Compulsions are behaviors such as:

  • Gambling,
  • Internet,
  • Video Games,
  • Self-Harm,
  • Pornography,
  • Rage,
  • Unrequited Love/Love Addiction,
  • Love Affairs,
  • Sex,
  • Drug-Dealing,
  • Combat or Fighting (Adrenaline),
  • Kleptomania,
  • Pyromania,
  • Trichotillomania,
  • Food,
  • Perfectionism,
  • Work,
  • Cleaning,
  • Self Sabotaging Behavior,
  • Gossip, and
  • Email/Texting/Phone.
The connection between trauma and addiction whether that be substance or behavior is strong. Studies of adolescents in treatment for addiction demonstrate that over 70% cite histories of trauma exposure. Teens who have been sexually abused or assaulted are three times more likely to abuse substances than their peers. Hence, trauma, particularly early in life, is a clear risk factor for addiction. But this doesn't have to be trauma how we know it! This can be any form of adverse life reactions contribute to our trauma. ((((See the question about ^ for futher explanation of what trauma actually is. )))) One possible reason for the link between emotional suffering and addiction is that individuals with untreated trauma tend to bear a multitude of triggers for substance abuse and behaviora addictions/compulsions. Emotional triggers can easily develop into strong levels of urge/cravings, strong maladaptive positive feelings, and urges to avoid. In the wake of trauma, people’s minds and bodies attempt to protect themselves from future harm by going into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode resulting in symptoms like anxiety, flashbacks, dissociation, anxiety, and panic attacks. To cope with the distressing symptoms of trauma, people may self-medicate, numbing their emotional pain with whatever allows them to feel better. Because addiction/compulsions stems from the frequency and scope of substance or behavior use, there is a correlation between the severity of a trauma survivors’ symptoms and their corresponding levels of desire to numb their collective discomfort. Individuals with trauma histories are more likely to require professional help and long-term support to overcome their chemical and behavioral addictions. Treating addiction without addressing underlying trauma leaves clients ill-equipped to manage trauma symptoms on their own and can set the stage for relapse. Counseling aimed at overcoming trauma and addiction/compulsions concurrently provide patients with the tools they need to address the serious effects of both big “T” and little “t” trauma.