Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), In a Nutshell

When we are in the REM stage of sleep our brain is processing the events of the day. It’s taking our memories of the day and filing them away in their proper place. Unfortunately, when we experience traumatic, disturbing, or life adverse events those memories do not get stored in their proper place. This results in vivid flashbacks and/or dreams, and other symptoms that steal our ability to fully enjoy and be present in our lives and relationships.

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation which can be in the form of back and forth eye-movements, tapping alternate hands or alternating tones in each ear. These bilateral movements facilitate the “re-filing” of those memories into the proper place. When this happens, the vividness of those memories lessens and symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares decrease or disappear altogether.

I like EMDR because you, the client, does not have to go into detail with me about those experiences unless you feel like you need to. For some, talking about the details can be helpful, while for others going back into the memory can be more harmful and triggering. To create your target list of memories, all I need is a brief description of that memory, like a newspaper headline.

However, we do not jump right into the reprocessing of memories, there are eight phases of EMDR that focus on understanding your past, present, and possible future outcomes. The stages of EMDR are designed to be a thorough exploration of each of these areas while building trust and rapport between you and me. Eight phases are not equal to years and years of therapy. The length of time depends on your experiences and how effectively we move through each stage.

More about EMDR

EMDR is a therapeutic intervention for PTSD but has documentation of successful outcomes in other psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms. The model behind EMDR, Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), suggest that a lot of these issues are due to traumatic or disturbing/adverse life experiences are encoded improperly or have not been fully processed. When this happens the client’s ability to integrate these life experiences and adapt well is impaired. EMDR helps facilitate normal processing of these life experiences by targeting past experience, current triggers, and future challenges to alleviate symptoms a client experiences, and decrease or eliminate distress from the disturbing memory. EMDR also helps facilitate an improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and a resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.

I recently became trained in EMDR therapy at the EMDR Center of the Rockies. It is an EMDRIA approved training, which means that it meets all the criteria required by them to successfully utilize EMDR in my practice. EMDR has been found effective in treating the following mental health problems:

  • Complicated grief
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disturbing memories
  • Phobias
  • Pain disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Stress reduction
  • Addictions
  • Sexual and/or Physical abuse
  • Body dysmorphic disorders
  • Personality Disorders

Additionally, EMDR has been found effective for recent, one-time traumatic events.