What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Charlie FrangosEMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a therapeutic process utilizing eye movements, sound or pulsations to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain. (This process is called “bi-lateral” stimulation.) Focusing on a distressful (or  positive) experience along with bi-lateral stimulation, brings about changes in the brain that, when completed, brings a person more into a state of balance.

The experience of EMDR is uniquely individual: It can be very intense or relatively mild. Some clients have described the process as putting together fragments of thought and memory into a cohesive whole.

One of the most intriguing things about EMDR therapy is that it can be used to reduce distress as well as increase a sense of well-being. That is why the same technique can be used both for PTSD symptoms brought on by a horrifying traumatic event and also for performance enhancement in the workplace.

Although a single distressing incident may resolve in a few sessions with EMDR, if your symptoms are a product of many traumas or an extended period of intense stress such as an abusive childhood, extensive preparation may be necessary. Your emotional safety is essential to this process and EMDR works best in a trusting and collaborative therapeutic relationship.

Does It Work?

Many people have experienced outstanding results with this research-based therapeutic process, originated and developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. Researchers have been studying the effects of EMDR on the brain to explain its success, and although there are many theories to explain its effectiveness, we don’t really know how it works. However, even without a full explanation, there is plenty of research to show that it is very effective.

Whether your goal is to repair the damage of trauma, develop relationship skills, or enhance work or personal performance, brain changes have to occur. EMDR therapy combines the best of everything we know about change, along with quality connection with a compassionate, non-judgmental therapist.

What Is an EMDR Session Like?

With an EMDR clinician, after an initial evaluation and discussion of treatment options, you will be prepared for an EMDR session by developing and strengthening your sense of inner safety and emotional resilience. (This is referred to as “resource development”.) EMDR is not hypnosis: during an EMDR session you are fully conscious and may stop at any time.

When you are fully prepared for EMDR (including a complete psychosocial history) you and your therapist will “set up” a session in which you target a disturbing situation. You will identify and explore feelings, thoughts, body signs, intensity level, and any visual aspects of the experience. Your therapist will use hand motions or technology which simulates the motion to stimulate eye movements and begin the “processing.” (Please note: your therapist may use light taps on your knees or hands or special equipment such as a light bar, or a tactile or auditory stimulus, depending on your comfort level.)

This experience of bringing about changes in the brain, is different for each individual and it can be very mild or very intense. In a completed EMDR experience (which will likely take multiple sessions) disturbing feelings and thoughts decrease in intensity, while a comforting or empowering belief about the situation is strengthened.

Sometimes it’s very difficult to imagine a positive future when negativity has dominated one’s thinking, emotions and behaviors. The promise of EMDR is that the devastating effects of negative feelings, thoughts and behaviors can be transformed into positive programming and more vibrant health and well-being.

About the author

Dr. Gala Gorman holds advanced degrees in human development, is a holistic life coach, and published author of the Spiritual Approach™ series of books focused on practical spirituality. She co-founded the Delta Discovery Center to provide support for people dealing with anxiety, stress and trauma.