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EMDR Overview

What’s EMDR Therapy? 

One of the services we offer at Calm Mind Counseling Center is EMDR therapy. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy allows individuals to heal from the emotional distress resulting from disturbing life experiences. Studies have shown that by using EMDR, clients can frequently accomplish in months what takes traditional talk therapy years to do. EMDR can be used as an adjunct to talk therapy or as a mental health treatment all by itself.

In the late 1980s, Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, discovered an intriguing connection between eye movement and distressing memories. As a result of this insight, she developed the EMDR methodology. Over the years, Dr. Shapiro's work evolved from a hypothesis to a full-blown therapy process.

EMDR addresses the root cause of trauma (the unprocessed painful memory) instead of its symptoms, such as maladaptive behaviors. This provides a more fundamental form of healing than most other types of therapy.

Once you and your therapist agree that EMDR therapy is a good fit, you’ll work together to find a traumatic memory to target. Your clinician will help you identify specific memories to work on during reprocessing.

This includes negative beliefs about yourself that have unfortunately arisen because of the traumatic event. To counteract these beliefs, your therapist will help you replace them with positive ones.

counselor and patient in session

Is EMDR a Valid Treatment? 

There have been so many studies done on EMDR therapy that it's now recognized as a highly effective treatment for trauma and other distressing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization.

In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense list EMDR as a best practice in treating veterans who have PTSD.

Powerfully Transformational 

EMDR therapy can powerfully transform the meaning of painful events. For example, a rape victim might shift from feelings of horror and disgust to holding the belief "I made it through the ordeal, and I'm a survivor."

Unlike talk therapy, the benefits of EMDR don't come from insights sparked by the clinician's observations but from the client's own accelerated healing processes. This typically results in a client finishing EMDR therapy empowered by the experiences that once caused them to feel guilt and shame. 

Bilateral Stimulation 

During EMDR therapy, you'll briefly focus on the memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation such as side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. These sets are repeated until the incident loses its power to upset you.

For example, after you and your psychotherapist figure out which memory to target first, they might ask you to hold different parts of that event in mind. Then, use your eyes to track their hand as it moves back and forth across your field of vision.

Internal associations will arise, and you begin to process the memory and the disturbing feelings associated with it. This helps repair the psychological damage caused by the memory and reduces its intensity, so you're no longer reliving it.

Your clinician will tell you to pay close attention to what's happening in your body and mind, including thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Any new insights you have about what you're experiencing are particularly valuable to the process.

As you make your way through sessions, your symptoms should gradually decrease. Once your symptoms are eliminated, your reprocessing is complete.

Treatment Length 

Typically, an EMDR session lasts between 60-90 minutes. A single disturbing memory usually takes between three and six sessions. More complex or longer-term traumas might take between eight and 12 sessions. 

How Is EMDR Therapy Different from Traditional Talk Therapy?

EMDR differs from traditional counseling because it doesn't rely on dialogue to change the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors associated with a distressing event. Instead, the brain's normal psychological healing process—which was deactivated by a traumatic memory—is restored.

In many cases (particularly when trauma is involved), EMDR may be more effective than conventional psychotherapy in boosting the quality of a person's life. 


What Types of Conditions Can It Treat?

EMDR therapy has a demonstrated track record of helping adults, teenagers, and children. It's used for conditions such as: 


Panic Attacks



Dissociative Disorders

Eating Disorders

Grief and Loss

Personality Disorders


Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Sexual Assault

Sleep Disturbance

Substance Abuse

EMDR therapy tool

How Does EMDR Work?

patient holding EMDR tool

Let's say you accidentally cut your leg. Your body's natural defenses trigger a sequence of events intended to accomplish a single purpose: healing the wound. The first step is forming a scab around the injury. However, your wound will never heal if you keep picking at the scab.

It's the same with psychological processes. Traumatic memories are like wounds that someone keeps picking. They can get stuck in your brain and interfere with its remarkable ability to maintain psychological equilibrium.

When this happens, you need a powerful process to neutralize these memories, such as EMDR. It takes all those locked up, unprocessed memories and helps the brain process them.

When a traumatic memory imbeds itself into your brain, it treats the memory as something that’s happening in the present moment instead of long ago. This causes the “fight, flight, or freeze” response to activate every time you think of the memory.

This creates an overwhelming feeling of being back in that moment. Because EMDR helps the brain process these memories, normal healing can resume. This means that the fight, flight, or freeze response is switched off. The past is relegated to a person's storehouse of memories instead of being an ever-present part of their current reality.

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