Reviewing EMDR

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Reviewing EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treats stress and anxiety disorders

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a form of psychotherapy that can reduce anxiety from the lingering memories of trauma1. Before seeking EMDR, trauma survivors may find themselves ruminating over or even reexperiencing traumatic experiences during daily activities, so, even though they want to leave the memories of these experiences behind, they become stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, reevaluating the circumstances that led up to the situation and/or tormenting themselves with guilt. Such people may uselessly imagine alternative actions they could have taken to avoid the outcomes they actually experienced.

However, after such people seek EMDR, they can greatly relieve stress. In fact, some patients can reform their negative thoughts by changing their beliefs about the surrounding events. As a result, the psychological reactions present themselves more weakly.

Why EMDR Works

EMDR works due to how it interacts with the memory network of trauma. The idea is that patients can associate painful memories with new information and thought patterns2. Essentially, patients access traumatic memories while simultaneously being exposed to visual, audio and other sensible distractions to create new thoughts. The added stimulation associates new thoughts with the traumatic ones, which opens the way to learn new ideas about what happened in the past. These benefits affect patients in the present, along with how they anxiously expect to suffer in the future.

EMDR believes that, just as the body can heal from physical trauma, the mind can also heal from trauma. However, when physical stimuli are constantly added to a wound, it cannot heal; pain must be allowed to heal without repeated irritation. In the same way, when the brain tries to heal from trauma, the memories can block all progress. In response, by removing the mental block, the brain can carry on with its healing.

Success Rates and Acceptance in the Medical Field

Clinicians who perform EMDR help patients gain access to their own healing processes. These workers are trained to follow an officially researched and approved protocol, which they learn in training sessions. According to studies, this form of psychotherapy can produce results that surpass what years of therapy accomplished. For example, one study shows that “84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have posttraumatic stress disorder [(PTSD)] after only three 90-minute sessions.” Kaiser Permanente also studied EMDR to find similarly benefits. Finally, the American Psychiatric association, Department of Defense and World Health Organization all hold this treatment as a legitimate coping and healing therapy for PTSD3.

8 Phases of EMDR

An EMDR therapy session likely has patients sit in chairs with therapists in front of them. However, unique to this method is that the therapist will wave something like a wand in front of the patient’s eyes, or the patient will wear a set of headphones that plays a soft tone in one ear and then the other. Only when the patient feels both calm and safe will the therapist will recount the traumatic experience: as the patient thinks about the memories, she will use her eyes to follow the wand’s movement, which mimics eye movements produced in rapid eye movement sleep. In this way, the patient can internally associate the traumatic events with other thought processes, which allows her mind to connect trauma with positive thoughts, such as “I can do this, because I made it through.”

Because the client mentally connects his own negative thoughts with more constructive ones, EMDR can prove more effective than talk therapy, which depends upon interpretation from an outside mind. In short, with this therapy, patients can process trauma emotionally and intellectually4.

The 8 phase approach of EMDR will begin with discussing the events of the trauma. If the patient had a traumatic experience in adulthood and also a problematic childhood, then the childhood issues may be the ones addressed in therapy, because trauma that results from a single event in adulthood may be cured in as few as 5 hours. In the second stage, the therapist will then assess the patient’s coping techniques for stress. Phases 3 to 6 have the patient describe what she sees when she experiences distress, what she thinks and feels about herself and what she feels within her body by way of sensations. The therapist will elicit a positive belief from the patient as well, and then rate the strength of the positive belief against the negative one.

Stimulation is provided through movement or tapping, whichever distractions the therapist has been trained to perform. The client will then note the reactions. After stimulation, the patient will relax his mind and notice whatever thoughts or images come to mind. When he no longer associates distress with the targeted memory, then it is time to move on to phase 7, wherein he will log between sessions any thoughts that are related to this issue. In the final phase, he and the patient will examine the progress and the past, present and future results of stimulation.

Further Information on EMDR

Memory networks accessed in EMDR are just a small part of the function of the human brain, which is still being researched. If you have questions regarding anxiety disorder, addiction and effective treatment, then call our toll-free helpline, 24 hour helpline as soon as possible to begin recovery.


1 Retrieved 11/12/2015.

2 SAMSHA National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Retrieved 11/12/2015.

3 Guidelines for the Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress, Retrieved 11/12/2015.

4 EMDR Taking a Closer Look, Hal Arkowitz, Emory University, Hal Arkowitz Psychology Professor, Published: December 6, 2007, Retrieved 11/12/2015.

5 Guidelines for the Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress, Retrieved 11/12/2015.

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