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EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

EMDR is an integrative psychotherapeutic modality. When a person is very upset, his or her brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment can become “frozen in time” physiologically, and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way he or she relates to other people.

slide4EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed; so following successful EMDR treatment, a person may no longer relive the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind or triggered by a related event. What happened is still remembered, but it is less upsetting.

Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

The EMDR therapy process begins with a one-hour session with the therapist to identify a target to begin the treatment process. Future treatment will be one and one-half-hour sessions until a resolution is attained or other recommendations are appropriate. In the EMDR sessions, the therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual stimulation of the brain. The client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content. Each person will process information uniquely, based on personal experiences stored in memory. During EMDR, the client may experience intense emotions; but, by the end of the treatment process, most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.

Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms, such as anxiety. The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress. Research has also shown that EMDR can be an efficient and rapid treatment.

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
  • Phobias
  • Pain disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Stress reduction
  • Addictions
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse
  • Body dysmorphic disorders

For further references, a bibliography of research may be found through EMDR International Association’s website,


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