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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

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Whether directly or indirectly, trauma will affect us at some point in our lives. Trauma can be caused by a variety of situations: rape; physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; violence; witnessing the death of a loved one; bullying; car accidents; military combat; and more.

Some who experience trauma are unable to resume normal living. They may develop symptoms of PTSD, severe depression or anxiety. When this happens, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may be an effective form of therapy to treat the traumatic memories.

EMDR is a relatively new, non-traditional form of therapy that integrates movement of the eyes and therapeutic guidance to reduce negative emotions and bring about healing. A person undergoing EMDR treatment will follow the movement of his/her therapist’s finger with his/her eyes while remembering a disturbing event. Some therapists may use a light tapping or musical tones rather than finger movements.

EMDR is most often used to treat PTSD and trauma. However, it is also used to treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health disturbances.

3 Important Facts

  • The effectiveness of EMDR remains controversial since research uses small sample sizes to conduct studies. However, available research does suggest EMDR can be highly effective.
  • Along with healing emotional trauma, EMDR may help with physical healing as well.
  • EMDR was developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro, a psychologist who discovered her own emotional distress was lessened with certain eye movements.

Signs to Look For

If you are struggling with flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, fatigue, feeling “stuck”, trouble sleeping, obsessions, compulsions, or suicidal tendencies, EMDR treatments may help you heal and get your life back on track.

What Are My Next Steps?

To discuss EMDR therapy options, make an appointment with a mental health professional trained in the technique. He/she can work with you to determine your needs and formulate a treatment plan.

Common Questions and Answers About EMDR

How does EMDR work?

When trauma occurs, the physical and emotional effects of trauma can become locked in the nervous system. Thoughts, feelings, outside factors (such as loud noises) may trigger the emotions and physical sensations associated with the trauma. EMDR works by unlocking the trauma from the nervous system, allowing healing to take place.

How long does an EMDR treatment typically last?

EMDR sessions usually last 60-90 minutes. For best results, EMDR sessions are given at least once per week, although more or fewer sessions may be given depending on the individual’s needs.

How effective is EMDR?

Research suggests EMDR may be more effective for the treatment of trauma victims than traditional talk therapies. However, more research is being conducted on how and why EMDR may be effective.

What if I’m not ready to face the painful or traumatic memory?

EMDR treatments involve several phases. The first phase is preparation and assessment. During this phase, the therapist will make sure you feel safe and know exactly what to expect. This phase can take as long as you need, until you feel safe and ready to proceed.

When will I experience the benefits of EMDR?

Results will depend on your unique situation. However, many people who undergo EMDR treatments experience accelerated healing that begins with the first session.