EMDR for Trauma

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a non-drug, non-hypnosis psychotherapy procedure. The therapist guides the client in concentrating on a troubling memory or emotion while moving the eyes rapidly back and forth (by following the therapist’s fingers). This rapid eye movement, which occurs naturally during dreaming, seems to speed the client’s movement through the healing process.

What is it used for?

EMDR is used to treat troubling symptoms such as anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and post-traumatic reactions. It can also be used to enhance emotional resources such as confidence and self-esteem.

What happens in a session?

EMDR is different for everyone, because the healing process is guided from within. Sometimes past issues or memories come up, which are related to the current concern. These may also be treated with EMDR, perhaps in the same session. Sometimes a painful memory brings up unpleasant emotions or body sensations. This is normal and generally passes within a few minutes, as long as the EMDR is not stopped. The upsetting emotion or memory often seems to fade into the past and lose its power.

Why bring up a painful memory?

When painful memories are avoided, they keep their disturbing power. However, a flashback or nightmare can feel as upsetting and overwhelming as the original experience, yet not be helpful. In therapy, and with EMDR, you can face the memory in a safe setting, so that you do not feel overwhelmed. Then you can get through it and move on.

Will I be in control?

It is hard to predict the thoughts, feelings, or memories that might come up during EMDR. It depends upon each individual’s natural healing process. You are always in charge of whether to continue or stop. You can also decide how much to tell the therapist about the experience. The therapist serves as a guide to help you stay on track and get the most out of the session, and may encourage you to continue through difficult parts.

How long does EMDR take?


¬†One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR more fully and provide an opportunity to answer questions about the method. Once therapist and client have agreed that EMDR is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR therapy may begin. 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.

Are there any precautions?

Yes. There are specific procedures to be followed depending on your presenting problem, emotional stability, medical condition, and other factors. It is very important that the therapist be formally trained in EMDR. Otherwise, there is a risk that EMDR would be incomplete, ineffective, or even harmful.

What happens afterwards?

You may continue to process the material for days or even weeks after the session, perhaps having new insights, vivid dreams, strong feelings, or memory recall. This may feel confusing, but it is just a continuation of the healing process, and should simply be reported to the therapist at the next session. (However, if you become concerned or depressed, you should call your therapist immediately.) As the distressing symptoms fade, you can work with the therapist on developing new skills and ways of coping.

How can I learn more about EMDR?

You can read articles about EMDR and find links to other EMDR-related sites on the internet at www.EMDRIA.org. You may also want to read EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy by Shapiro and Forrest (1998).