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Geneele Crump, LCSW

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What is EMDR?

(Adapted from information published by the EMDR International Association.)

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  It can be described as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

When a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily.  One moment becomes “frozen in time,” 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 they relate to other people.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information.  Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind.   What happened can still be 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. 

What is an EMDR session like?

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.

During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the session.  The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event.  The therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes, or other bilateral stimulation of the brain, while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content.  Each person will process information uniquely.  Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about one’s self:  for example, “I did the best I could.”  During EMDR, the client may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session, most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.

A typical EMDR session lasts from 60-90 minutes.  The type of problem, life circumstances, the extent of disturbing experiences, and other factors will determine how many sessions are necessary.  EMDR may be used within a standard “talking” therapy, as an additional therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.

What kinds of problems can EMDR treat?

  • Many controlled 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.  However, therapists also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following:
  • panic attacks
  • stress
  • disturbing memories
  • performance anxiety
  • phobias
  • complicated grief
  • sexual and/or physical abuse
  • and more

Please feel free to discuss whether EMDR may be helpful for you.