EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a well-researched and established therapy that combines imagery, mindfulness, and cognitive techniques to treat trauma (including PTSD, domestic violence, bullying, etc.), substance use disorder, anger, and other issues. EMDR is recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association, and those of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. EMDR therapy is included as a valid, evidence-based approach in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.
EMDR therapy integrates elements of several traditional psychological orientations and is based on the Adaptive Information Processing model (AIP). The AIP model suggests there is an inherent information processing system in the brain that gets blocked when disturbing events occur, causing these events to get stuck in the brain with the original image, sounds, thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Whenever a reminder of the disturbing event is triggered, those pictures, thoughts, emotions, and sensations can also be triggered. EMDR therapy helps the brain reprocess these painful memories, and as a result alleviates the emotional and psychological distress.
The process of EMDR typically involves focus on a disturbing memory while visually following a horizontal light (on a light bar or wand) and/or feeling alternating vibrations in your hands with the use of hand-held pulsers. Alternating tones via earphones may also be incorporated. This process, combined with specific, proven protocols, enables the brain to resolve emotional trauma and gain insight into the circumstance or event in a way that is often more effective than traditional talk therapy alone.
The number of sessions required for EMDR varies depending on the issues being addressed. A single traumatic incident that is the subject of EMDR treatment can typically be resolved in five or six sessions, including the intake and preparation. However, for multiple traumas or a history of past abuse, trauma, or neglect, EMDR can take longer for resolution.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does EMDR work?
While the precise mechanisms that enable EMDR to work continue to be researched, many researchers believe that bilateral stimulation – the alternating eye movements and/or tactile sensations – enable internal associations to arise that allow the person to process disturbing events and heal. Similar to the body recovering from physical trauma using appropriate treatment, the mind can heal from psychological trauma using EMDR therapy. When a person incurs a physical injury or illness, treatment assists their body to work toward healing the wound. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. Using the protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, therapists help clients activate their natural healing processes.
Can I still be treated with EMDR if I have a history of migraines or eye issues?
While some studies suggest eye movements may be more effective than the pulsers alone, many clients prefer to use only the pulsers and are equally able to successfully process disturbing events.
What does it mean if a therapist is EMDR Certified?
Some therapists have taken the basic and maybe even some advanced EMDR training but are not certified. EMDR Certification means the therapist has: treated at least 25 people for at least 50 sessions over at least two years using EMDR, completed the basic and advanced training required, and been EMDR supervised for 20 hours. Camille is EMDR Certified. For therapists working on their certification, Camille offers consultation as a Consultant in Training (CIT).
What can I expect in an EMDR session?
After EMDR has been identified as the appropriate treatment method for the presenting concern(s), and preparation including history-taking, assessment for readiness, and resource development has occurred, an EMDR session begins with identifying a belief you have about yourself in the context of the disturbing event or circumstance, and identifying a belief you would prefer to hold. While focusing on the disturbing event or image, you will experience a series of bilateral stimulation (BLS) – this can be watching lights on a light bar moving back and forth and/or holding a pulser in each hand and feeling alternating vibrations in your hands. Headphones with alternating tones may also be used. Between BLS, you will be asked what you notice, and sometimes what physical sensations are felt, if any. Progress is measured by monitoring the level of the event's/memory's disturbance, typically using a 0-10 scale. At the end of a session, many clients report that while they continue to recall the event, it no longer feels disturbing to them.
More information about EMDR can be found in the video below and at the EMDR International Association website: