What is EMDR?

Although explanations of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can be incredibly complex and theoretical, a simple explanation is it is an entire brain-based therapy model that has been proven to be highly effective for those who have experienced trauma. 

EMDR therapy is founded on the basis that our emotional well-being is interwoven with our physical (somatic) state. Therefore, EMDR employs a body-based technique called bilateral simulation during which a therapist will guide a client through eye movements, tones, or taps in order to “move” a memory that has been incorrectly stored in one part of the brain to another, more functional, part of the brain, thus reducing or eliminating the distress associated with the memory.

During trauma our brain processes and stores memories incorrectly. This incorrect storage can lead to past memories continuing to feel very disturbing and, when triggered by present day stressors, continue to create distress (e.g. a car accident that occurred in the past makes it difficult or very stressful for a person to drive on the freeway now). EMDR therapy corrects this mis-storage so that the upsetting memories associated with the trauma lose their charge and it allows a client to “cut” the connection between past and present, thus letting a person to experience the present without triggering the past.

What counts as “trauma?”

Trauma is any adverse experience that overwhelms one’s ability to cope or negatively impacts one’s psyche. Sometimes people think of trauma as only including acute traumatic events (e.g. a rape, surviving a natural disaster, witnessing a crime, etc.), however, we know that trauma can be both acute and chronic (e.g. the events that effect us day in and day out, such as child abuse or toxic work environments). What causes trauma can change over time or from situation to situation and what one person experiences as traumatic, another person may not. Trauma is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. We do not define trauma by whether other people think of it as traumatic, but rather whether the person who has experienced it was negatively impacted in a lasting way.

For first responders and public safety professionals, trauma can be cumulative and compounding over time. We often think of trauma in these professions to be a “wear and tear” type of injury.—one can only be exposed to intense, dangerous and horrific events for so long before it begins to stick with them. Stress injuries result from seeing too much for too long. The good news is that there is effective treatment available for those who are willing to seek it out.

What is the EMDR process like?

EMDR is an 8 phase process. I will assist you in identifying the present issues you are experiencing, how you would like to respond to those triggers in the future and then we identify past memories that are underlying the current triggers. Through research supported protocols, we “reprocess” these memories using bilateral stimulation of the brain (which can be done using tones in the ears, taps on the knee or movements of the eyes). Some people find themselves wanting to talk about their experiences in detail, while others find that they do not wish to talk about the specifics of the traumatic memories they are reprocessing. The wonderful thing about EMDR is that you are not required to immerse yourself back into the traumatic memory by talking about it in order to be able to reprocess it and “move” it to the correct part of the brain where it is no longer distressing. This can be helpful and important for people who have experienced events that, due to their security clearance or other barriers, they are not able to disclose in detail. Each person who engages in EMDR therapy with me engages in the treatment planning process in a collaborative way.

I’ve heard some things about EMDR—are they true?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Sometimes people have heard positive or negative things about EMDR from friends, family or the media about what EMDR is like or how it works. I invite you to research this treatment method and reach out to me if you have questions. Be aware that EMDR is not hypnosis—you are never in an altered state of consciousness during reprocessing and you are always in control of whether to continue or to stop treatment. EMDR is not for everyone and this is an important part of the assessment process—to make sure that your needs and where you are on your mental health journey are appropriate for this kind of treatment. Occasionally people have had someone they know who experienced relief of their symptoms in a very short period of time—1 session, for example. While this can happen for some people, to get the best experience with EMDR, more sessions are usually needed as assessment and treatment planning are important steps to give you the best results (you wouldn’t want your doctor to treat your physical illness without running some tests and asking some questions and mental health is no different).

What can EMDR be used to treat?

EMDR is a research supported treatment that has more than 30 years of research and application to support it’s use and efficacy. It is recognized by SAMHSA, WHO, and used by the VA to treat PTSD and other injuries in combat veterans. EMDR can be used to treat PTSD/PTSI, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic complaints (migraines, for example), phobias, grief and loss, performance enhancement, chronic stress, experiences related to being the victim of a crime or surviving traumatic experiences (a natural disaster, accidents, etc.) and more. Many mental health issues have an underlying issue related to experiences of trauma and, therefore, theoretically EMDR can be used to assist in offering relief due to addressing these experiences.

If you are a first responder or public safety professional, EMDR can be vital and so helpful in “closing out” calls that continue to pop up in your awareness. Do not feel that you have to live with those calls causing you distress simply because you are in such a profession. Even a handful of reprocessing sessions can assist a first responder in finding relief related to specific incidents. My recommendation to anyone in these types of roles is that if a call or experience continues to bother you (or you find yourself continuing to think about it) for more than 2 weeks, then please come in and let’s address it and help put it behind you. Don’t let those calls build up.

Where can I get more information about EMDR?

Here are some link to provide you with more information regarding EMDR, it’s use and efficacy: