Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful psychotherapy approach that has helped an estimated two million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress. It can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

When a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. An event becomes “stuck” or “frozen in time” and remembering it may be disturbing because the images, sounds, smells and feelings haven’t changed. This lasting, negative effect interferes with the way a person sees the world and how they relate to others.

With EMDR, normal information processing is resumed, so a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. Memories of what happened are still there, but they no longer upset us like they did previously. This appears to be what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

What kind of problems can EMDR treat?

Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:

Personality Disorders

Panic Attacks

Complicated Grief

Dissociative Disorders

Disturbing Memories


Body Dysmorphic Disorders

Eating Disorders


Performance Anxiety


Stress Reductions



Sexual and/or Physical Abuse

Pain Disorders

What does an EMDR session look like?

The therapist and the client work together to identify a specific problem as the focus of treatment. The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event. The therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content. Each person processes information uniquely through sets of bilateral stimulation of the brain until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thought and beliefs about one’s self.

A typical EMDR session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR may be used within a standard “talking” therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.