What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a powerful approach that has helped over an estimated two million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress. It is designated as an effective treatment by the American Psychiatric Association, The World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and more.

EMDR, as with most therapy approaches focuses on the individual’s present concerns. The EMDR approach believes that past emotionally charged experiences are overly influencing your present emotions, sensations, and thoughts about yourself. As an example: “Do you ever feel worthless although you know you are a worthwhile person?”

EMDR helps you break through the emotional blocks that are keeping you from living an adoptive, emotionally healthy life.

EMDR uses rapid sets of eye movements to help you update disturbing experiences, much like what occurs when we sleep. During sleep, we alternate between regular sleep and REM (rapid eye movement). This sleep pattern helps you process things that are troubling you.

EMDR replicates that sleep pattern by alternating between sets of eye movements and brief reports about what you are noticing. This alternating process helps you update your memories to a healthier present perspective.

What is different about EMDR?

EMDR focuses on the brains ability to constantly learn, taking past experiences, and updating them with present information. Past emotionally charged experiences often interfere with that updating process. EMDR breaks through that interference and helps let go of the past and update your experiences to a healthier present perspective.

EMDR uses a set of procedures to organize your negative and positive feelings, emotions, and thoughts, and then uses bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or alternating tapping, as the way to help you effectively work through disturbing memories,

What kind of problems can EMDR therapy treat?

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

Panic Attacks                                                                   Performance Anxiety

Complicated Grief                                                         Stress Reduction

Dissociative Disorders                                                Addiction

Body Dysmorphic Disorders                                    Sexual and/or Physical Abuse

Disturbing Memories                                                   Pain Disorders


What is the actual EMDR session like?

During the EMDR therapy, 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 event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., and then what thoughts and believes are currently held about the 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-movement are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated 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 the therapist and client have agreed that EMDR therapy is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR Therapy may begin.

A typical EMDR therapy session lasts from 60 -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” talking” therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself. Frequently, EMDR is only one of several treatment approaches that will be used to help you reach your treatment goals.

Dorothee Ischler is an EMDR trained therapist.

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