EMDR Therapy

I had my first experience with EMDR Therapy in Big Sur in 1992. I was on staff at Esalen Institute. A friend had just been trained by Francine Shapiro in San Francisco and was staying with me on his way south to Los Angeles.

He wanted to demonstrate this 'new therapy technique'. We worked on an issue from my teens with my father. The work was so deep and pervasive that it continues to impact my life even today. EMDR Therapy removed my glass ceiling.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful method of psychotherapy that has helped over two million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress.

Courtesy of EMDR International Association:

View the Introduction to EMDR Therapy Video

Visit https://www.emdria.org


Scientific research has established EMDR Therapy as effective for post traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR Therapy in treatment of the following conditions:


* personality disorders        * panic attacks                        
* complicated grief             * dissociative disorders                         
* disturbing memories         * phobias

* pain disorders                 * eating disorders                        
* performance anxiety         * addictions 

* stress reduction               * sexual and/or physical abuse
               * body dysmorphic disorders

Below is a brief description of EMDR Therapy, what it is, what it’s based on, and why it works.

For more in-depth information, I suggest reading Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro. It is available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and most bookstores.

EMDR Therapy is a procedure based therapy.

EMDR Therapy uses an eight-phase treatment approach.

EMDR Therapy is an information-processing model.

EMDR Therapy combines different elements from effective therapies to maximize treatment effects.

EMDR Therapy involves attention to three time periods: the past, present, and future. Focus is given to past disturbing memories and related events. Focus is given to current situations that cause distress. Attention is then turned to building healthy responses to situations arising in the future.

EMDR Therapy uses a procedure that reduces the intensity of traumatic images, body sensations and triggers. This process reduces the emotional response to the disturbing memories.

EMDR Therapy targets ‘little t’ traumas that arise out of living everyday life, and ‘big T’ traumas arising from such events as earthquakes and other natural disasters, war, violence, sudden traumatic change, and abuse.

EMDR Therapy gives attention to developing the skills and attitudes needed for positive future choices and actions.


HOW WAS EMDR THERAPY DEVELOPED?  In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts under certain conditions. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically, and in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma. Since then, EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.

HOW DOES EMDR THERAPY WORK?  No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes ‘frozen in time,’ and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

EMDR Therapy seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed following a successful EMDR session, so a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

WHAT IS THE ACTUAL EMDR THERAPY SESSION LIKE?  A typical EMDR Therapy session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR Therapy may be used within a standard “talk” therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself. During an EMDR Therapy session, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session. The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event. The therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain, while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content. Each person will process information uniquely, based on personal experiences and values. Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and the brain associates it with positive thoughts and beliefs about one’s self; for example, “I did the best I could.” During EMDR Therapy, the client may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session, most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.

HOW LONG DOES EMDR THERAPY TAKE?   One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR Therapy is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR Therapy more fully and provide an opportunity to answer questions about the method. Once therapist and client have agreed that EMDR Therapy is appropriate for a specific problem, the EMDR Therapy may begin.

BUT DOES EMDR THERAPY REALLY WORK?  Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR Therapy. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety. The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR Therapy as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. EMDR Therapy was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies. Research has shown that EMDR Therapy can be an efficient and rapid treatment. For further references, a bibliography of research may be found through EMDR International Association's web site, www.emdria.org.


WHAT IS THE EMDR INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION? The EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) is a membership organization of mental health professionals dedicated to the highest standards of excellence and integrity in EMDR Therapy. To that end, the Association distributes brochures, publishes newsletters, publishes a peer-reviewed Journal (Journal of EMDR Therapy Practice and Research), holds an annual conference, sets basic EMDR Therapy training standards, evaluates continuing education programs, and maintains programs and listings of EMDRIA Certified Therapists, Approved Consultants, and Providers of Basic EMDR Therapy Training.  EMDRIA is the ongoing support system for EMDR Therapy trained practitioners and provides opportunities for the continued development of EMDR Therapy in a professional manner. Through EMDRIA, practitioners have access to the latest clinical information and research data on EMDR Therapy.


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