Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Explained

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a method of therapy which has been developed to help clients with emotional distress arising from past disturbing and unresolved life experiences. EMDR is a physiologically based therapy that helps the brain process disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, the person no longer relives the experience in the same way when the event is brought to the mind. There is still a memory of what happened, but it is less upsetting and the person can look at the experience with a new sense of understanding and clarity. Many types of therapy have similar goals, however EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It can be used to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, grief, abuse, panic attacks, trauma, phobias and post-traumatic stress. EMDR is also helpful for resolving present relationship issues that are affected by past patterns of interactions.

When a person experiences a distressing or traumatic experience, the brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. A moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering the experience may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. People often have a range of subtle negative experiences that have occurred over time. These older negative experiences and belief systems associated with them often have a lasting effect that interferes the way they see the world and relate to other people.

EMDR involves activating both the left and right sides of the brain while recalling the distressing life experience in order to more adequately process the memory contributing to the emotional disturbance. During the therapy process, old beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about the experience are connected with more positive and realistic information. After the treatment, the client can often recall the experience with a new perspective, new insight, resolution of distorted beliefs, and a reduction in emotional distress.

The therapist uses eye movements, tapping, or sounds, depending on the client’s preference. Eye movements are not a necessary form of the stimulation and clients can choose either a hand-held pulsating instrument or earphones with alternating sounds for the therapy.

Please refer to The EMDR Institute for frequently asked questions.