Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a late-stage, trauma resolution method. EMDR was originally developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro. EMDR currently has more scientific research as a treatment for trauma than any other non-pharmaceutical intervention. EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR therapy includes a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. To date, EMDR has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Eating Disorder, and Anxiety Disorders. Other instances where this treatment is applied include when individuals have a general discomfort with public speaking or medical procedures.
EMDR processes traumatic information, resulting in a more adaptive perspective of the traumatic experience. EMDR has been shown to eliminate symptoms of reliving trauma such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks. Theoretically, the treatment goal is to convince the mind and body that the traumatic event is, indeed over.
EMDR is intended to put the past in the past, where it belongs. Instead of staying stuck in the past, continuously reliving the traumatic event every day; with the same thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that occurred during the original traumatic event.
At East End Mental Health EMDR is accomplished in four stages (Parnell, 2006).
Establishment of safety within the therapeutic relationship and within each individual EMDR session.
During each EMDR session, the psychotherapist will begin by activating the client’s own internal resources. He or she will guide the client in an imaginal, multisensory guided imagery exercise designed to activate images, emotions, and body sensations of safety, protection, nurture, and comfort. Once these images have been activated, the actual trauma reprocessing will begin.
Activating the traumatic memory network follows. The psychotherapist will ask a series of questions regarding the traumatic memory. The purpose of these questions (or script) is to fully activate the entire traumatic memory network.
Adding alternating bilateral stimulation is next. Once the entire traumatic memory is activated, the psychotherapist will add alternating bilateral stimulation with buzzing in the client’s hands by turning on a Thera-tapper orbegin moving his/her hands back and forth, so the client may visually track the movement across the midline of the client’s body.
The last stage is ending with safety. Regardless of whether the traumatic material was completely processed or not, the session will end at a pre-set time. Before the client leaves, he or she will be stable, embodied, oriented, and calm. Depending on the client and the psychotherapist’s preferences, this may be accomplished in a variety of ways including, but not limited to re-activating the client’s own internal resources, breathing exercises, prolonged muscle relaxation, etc.
There are always side effects with any treatment. Please see your provider should you have any questions or concerns. It follows then, that more valuable than a clinician with a training certificate in EMDR, clients are better served by competent, clinicians who possess a thorough knowledge of trauma-its effects and aftereffects, as well as knowledge of the current evidence-based, state-of-the art trauma resolution methods, which should include, but be not limited to the EMDR.
Clients at East End Mental Health should expect his or her clinician will continuously and vigilantly attend and re-attend the client’s safety and stabilization needs. To that end, clients should be aware and expect the following.
A solid therapeutic relationship, in other words a good rapport and adequate trust in the client’s psychotherapist.
An explicit crisis plan-co-written by the client.
Psychoeducation regarding trauma, its effects, aftereffects, and current treatment options including the modalities utilized by the client’s psychotherapist.
Curran, L. (2009). EMDR and EMDR related techniques for effective trauma treatment. Eau Claire, WI: PESI, LLC.
EMDR International Association (2008, December). EMDRIA Newsletter. Retrieved from
EMDR International Association (2009). EMDR 20th Anniversary: Looking back, moving forward, 2009 EMDRIA conference. Austin, TX: EMDR International Association.
Maxfield, L. (2007). Current status and future directions for EMDR research. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research,1(1), 6-14.
Parnell, L. (2007). A therapist’s guide to EMDR: Tools and techniques for successful treatment. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures. (2nd ed.) New York: The Guilford Press.