What is EMDR?


EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and is a form of energy psychology. Developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro, EMDR is well recognized as an effective form of treatment for a number of disorders that typically result in trauma, including PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Tested and studied in more than twenty different studies, and shown to have helped millions of people overcome psychological distress, EMDR has found its place in integrative psychotherapy.

If you are interested in getting an in depth look at EMDR, we recommend purchasing Francine Shapiro’s book “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, 2nd Edition”, available on Amazon.

What is EMDRIn an eight phase approach, the techniques used in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing assess and analyze past traumatic events, fully “process” them, and bring in new thoughts and thinking patterns. In essence it reprograms old or recently developed detrimental belief patterns into positive and useful ones.

Let’s explore that a little more. Due to the nature of traumatic events, the brain usually goes into survival mode when “digesting and storing” the memories of such events. These memories can be spotty, incomplete, or even completely blacked out. However, they are still there, deep within the subconscious mind.

Because of the incompleteness and disorder of such memories, they can influence emotions, behaviors, and feeling in negative ways, sometimes to the extreme. EMDR brings those memories out, re-sorts them, and establishes aspects of the events that can be beneficial to you and allow you to use those experiences in a positive way.

When used in addition to other clinical therapies the positive effects and benefits of EMDR therapy are even greater.

EMDR Eight Treatment Protocols

Phase 1 – Patient History and Treatment Planning – This phase typically is covered in the first two sessions, but can be revisited as new situations arise during the EMDR process.

  • Determine whether you are truly ready for treatment.
  • Identify past or current traumatic event(s) or disturbances.
  • Identify triggers, behaviors, and symptoms that result from the traumatic event(s).
  • Develop treatment goals to treat specific event and current triggers.
  • Identify specific skills and behavior for future sessions.

Phase 2 – Developing Coping Skills and Preparing for Treatment – 1 – 4 sessions depending on the severity of the traumatization.

  • Develop a set of tools to handle emotions when triggered.
  • Identify and verify that you are able and willing to use EMDR.
  • Establish trust between your and your therapist.

Phase 3 – Assessment of Beliefs and Feelings – This is the initiation phase of the actual EMDR treatment

  • Select specific scene from traumatic event that represents the memory
  • Identify feelings, or statements, that arise when thinking of the specific scene
    • “I am a horrible person”, “I am useless”, “I am abandoned”, etc.
  • Develop contradictory statements that are positive and self assuring
    • “I am a good person”, “I am useful”, “I am surrounded by love”, etc.
  • Use of Validity of Cognition (VOC) scale to determine the truth of the positive statement
    • Scale of 1 – 7: 1 = completely false; 7 = completely true
    • Based on feelings, not thoughts
  • Pair negative emotions with physical symptoms resulting from those emotions

Phase 4 – Desensitization – This phase uses the information found in Phase 3 to help you work through the trauma and associated emotions.

  • Use of a series of eye movements, or possibly other forms of stimulation, specifically designed to shift the mind’s focus on the event and reduce the SUDS levels to zero.
  • Primary focus is on the main, triggering event, but shifts to other related events as needed.

Phase 5 – Installation of Positive Beliefs

  • Implement the positive statements developed in Phase 3 and strengthen them so that they are more powerful than, and eventually replace, the associated negative statements.
  • Use of the Validity of Cognition (VOC) scale to assess the strength of the positive statements

Phase 6 – Body Assessment and Reprocessing – Making sure the positive statements are dominant.

  • Identify body tension that might result from revisiting traumatic event or memory.
  • Any tension indicates residual and unresolved feelings.

Phase 7 – Closure

  • Assessment of each treatment session to assure that you are feeling better than when you started.
  • Instilling of the belief that you are in control when not in EMDR sessions.
  • Implementation, on your own, of the self-calming techniques used during the EMDR sessions.
  • Maintenance of a journal to document events between EMDR sessions.

Phase 8 – Re-evaluation

  • Assess, at the start of each session, whether or not the positive statements and results from the previous session are still in place and being effective.
    • Use of SUDS, VOC, adn body tension evaluation.
  • Identify any new areas that need to be treated
  • Determines the success or failure of previous treatment sessions.

The procedure of Phases three through six might go something like this:

The clinician instructs you to focus on the identified issue. While you focus on the issue, the clinician begins to move their fingers in a back and forth pattern in front of your eyes. You are instructed to follow their fingers with your eyes. The eye movement pattern that is created is the same that occur during REM sleep.

You continue to focus on the issue and follow the finger movement in approximate twenty to thirty second intervals.  Between intervals you are allowed to take your mind to a safe place and rest your eyes. This is where the reprocessing takes place.

After several sets of these intervals the clinician revisits the levels of distress and, in most cases finds there has been reduced amounts of stress when thinking of the traumatic event.

The desensitization continues even after the session is over. Layering these sessions serves to increase your ability to process the trauma without causing stress or distress. Upon evaluation, the clinician will decide whether to proceed with another set of eye movement intervals, or call it quits for that session.

While this procedure often produces quick results, it is never wise to press too much work at one time.  Allowing time between sessions allows the patient to process at their individual pace.

Working with a Professional

The EMDR Institute

EMDR is best done with the guidance of a professional rather than taking this treatment on as self-help therapy.  Although there have been individuals who may have attained some success with EMDR on their own, when treated with a licensed professional you are in a better position for immediate help if the reprocessing becomes more than your might have expected. Bringing up past trauma can be powerful. You might not be prepared.

Working with a trained professional also promotes accountability. Not having the benefit of a second party, when working on yourself, you might have a tendency to ignore some of more powerful emotions and traumatic experiences.

Professionals trained in EMDR are also very adept at bringing out emotions and identifying traumatic experiences that you may not remember or immediately recall. Working through strong emotions takes a certain level of skill, experience, and intuition. Not easily something one can do on their own.

EMDR and Other Therapies

What is EMDR therapy’s role in the overall mental health field? It not only serves as a standalone therapy, but when eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is used in conjunction with other therapies, both traditional and non-traditional, its effects are amplified. Other complimentary treatments when using EMDR therapy might include:

  • Massage Therapy – keeping the body in a relaxed state for better stability.
  • Reiki Therapy – when used in conjunction with EMDR, Reiki helps boost self confidence and improve memory.
  • Psychotherapy – allowing oneself to release emotions by talking about them might increase the ability to let one see what is the underlying cause of the trauma.

Adverse Effects

As with any therapy, adverse effects may be experienced. In EMDR, distress may come from facing trauma head on. However, when processed through to the finish these adverse effects dissipate. The emotions may not be completely relieved, but for most people they are significantly reduced.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has proven itself as an effective form of treatment in its decade’s old practice. EMDR is both powerful and gentle.  It often produces very quick results, and even with the deeper and tougher cases of PTSD trauma, major results may be seen in a matter of weeks as opposed to years when using EMDR as a form of PTSD therapy.

The EMDR Institute

The EMDR Institute is the home base of Ms. Shapiro and her training resources for rapid eye movement therapy. It is the place to go if a person is seeking either training, or is looking for a trained clinician.


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