What is EMDR Therapy?

For a long time, trauma therapy was something that sort of baffled and challenged doctors and psychologists around the world. Research has been extensive on the topic since the 1800’s in France, but during the World War’s, trauma became something taboo, that just wasn’t really discussed much. Luckily, in the time since then, there has been A LOT of headway made in the fight against trauma, and one of the methods that have been discovered to be the most helpful is EMDR Therapy.

The name can be tricky, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, so for now, we will just stick with EMDR.

What is EMDR?

Overall, EMDR therapy is one of the most effective trauma therapies discovered so far. The major belief as to why it is so effective is that it uses the idea that rapid eye movement, most commonly presented during stress or high anxiety situations, can lead the brain to a place of healing around a certain memory or trauma.

EMDR is performed in a traditional therapeutic setting, with the therapist and client sitting alone, with one individual client at a time. The meetings usually last for anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes. The therapist will lead the client through a series of visualizations and ask them to relate these images with feelings, memories, thoughts, etc. The visualizations and lights activate both left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Where most therapeutic modalities consist of simple “talk therapy” EMDR therapy is a more integrative and immersive therapeutic style that encourages the client to become completely in tune with their brain and body, which can allow for a deeper ability to heal.

What is EMDR Helpful for?

Since EMDR Therapy is primarily a resource used for people who struggle with trauma, it can really span across the board when it comes to who it will help. Primarily, people who struggle with substance abuse and other mental health disorders have encountered some form of trauma in their past, which has left a lasting imprint on their mental functioning. Some of the most common diagnosis that EMDR can help to treat are:

EMDR Therapy has been used to help people after horrific car accidents, painful sports injuries, wartime combat, relationships with abusive parents or partners, abductions and robberies, natural disasters, suicide attempts, the death of a loved one and so much more.

How Does EMDR Work?

The framework for EMDR therapy is based around a general 8 stage outline. This process will be undergone with a therapist who has been trained and is licensed in administering EMDR therapy. EMDR can be pretty intense, so it is totally acceptable to let your therapist know if the emotions or sensations you begin to feel upon recalling the traumatic event become too much.

When you meet with an EMDR therapist, the first session will always be learning about you. This is where you will discuss your own history, to figure out the origin of the event, how you have coped with it since then, and how it has affected other areas of your life. Your therapist will also explain to you the whole process of EMDR and what you can expect from them. After that, the process can begin, with the next phase being the preparation phase.

emdr therapy session

    • Preparation: During this stage, the client will learn ways to cope with these memories or feelings on their own. This way, if things come up outside of the therapeutic session, they will be able to manage or seek comfort in a healthy and constructive way.
    • Assessment: This process allows the individual to begin to identify any negative or uncomfortable feelings, behaviors, or physical sensations that arise in them upon remembering their trauma. This allows the individual to sink into that blending between their mind and body and help them to identify that what they feel is often a response to what they are thinking about.
    • Desensitization: This is when the therapist will lead the individual through a series of eye movements. During this time, the therapist will help the individual to identify new, positive thoughts around the bad experience, eventually rewiring the neural pathways in the brain.


  • Installation: This phase further solidifies the desensitization phase by reinforcing these positive thought patterns in your brain where they were once focused around negative thoughts and feelings. Think of it like practicing, the more you practice, the better you get, this is how the installation process works, by reaffirming these positive ideas repeatedly in order to strengthen their impact on the mind.


  • Body Scan: It is scientifically proven that those who experience trauma tend to hold some of the residual tension in certain areas of the body. The body scan that occurs after the EMDR therapy sessions helps you to move through the body, relaxing and relieving any tension that the therapy may have brought up.



  • Closure: Though the sessions can be emotionally intense, the goal is to leave each one feeling a little better, rather than worse. This phase ensures that you and your therapist discuss residual or lingering thoughts or feelings you might be experiencing. This phase is really to wrap up the process each time to encourage, well, closure!
  • Reevaluation: At the start of your next session, the therapist will check in with you to discuss anything that has come up since the last session, any questions or concerns you might have, and how well you feel the process has been working so far. This helps to steer the rest of the sessions into a direction that will benefit you the most.

It can all seem a little strange at first, especially if the individual has been more familiar with traditional talk therapy modalities. Despite the fact that it is going to be a little different, EMDR has been reported to reduce or completely treat symptoms of severe PTSD in over 75% of adult trauma victims after only eight sessions. 67% of PTSD sufferers reported having none of their symptoms after only five sessions.

Get Help Today

Living with the after effects of trauma can be challenging, frightening, and invasive but you don’t have to live that way forever. Reach out for help now.

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