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What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a well-researched treatment for a number of types of issues and disorders. EMDR is used in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, phobias and other problems that involve negative thought processes. The focus of treatment is on a faulty belief that is blocking adaptive thinking.

For example, an intrusive thought or attitude might be keeping a person from moving past a particular issue. It is important to note that these types of beliefs are irrational attitudes or belief systems that keep the person from full functioning in their behavioral wellness and growth. Examples of blocking (irrational) beliefs could include; feeling not good enough or feeling unsafe in an environment that is familiar and supportive.

The EMDR process involves alternating stimulation of the brain while processing a faulty (irrational) thought, image or belief. The process involves no feelings of discomfort or pain and consists mainly of alternating visual, tactile and auditory stimuli. Visual stimulation is conducted with a light bar. The client follows the light, back and forth without moving the head. This eye movement creates the same eye movements as in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This type of sleep is thought to be a restorative process of the brain. Tactile stimulation is conducted by hand held pulsers that vibrate in the hands. Auditory stimulation is conducted by headphones that emit a short tone.

Ideas, images and specific thoughts are processed between sets of alternating stimulation. For example, a patient or client is asked to focus on a specific image or thought in between sets such as a traumatic experience. We then focus on the material that comes up after the stimulation. This is the brain’s own healing process that has been stuck because of the blocking (faulty) belief. Frequently, the brain will eventually begin to process the faulty belief into a rational belief and resolution.

Many studies have supported the idea that EMDR can shift the negative beliefs in a traumatic or anxious experience to a more rational belief or attitude. The client begins to realize that it is no longer useful to hold on to the traumatic or anxious feelings, attitudes or beliefs. Simultaneously the subject learns and adopts more positive feelings and the negative ideas are extinguished and minimized.

EMDR treatment has been shown to be useful in traumatic and anxious experiences. The idea of psychological and emotional trauma has evolved in recent years. Many people think of trauma as a single disturbing incident. Specifically, we tend to associate trauma with military experiences and/or one-time traumatic events. Trauma also exists in situations involving physical, sexual or emotional abuse at the hands of one or more perpetrators. Trauma can be experienced by witnessing a disturbing event without actually being involved. In addition, I treat many people who are experiencing trauma by long term situations such as bullying or neglect which many times leaves a person very anxious and fearful. Research has supported a negative effect from prolonged trauma and prolonged exposure to trauma. In other words, the more trauma that is experienced the higher the risk for additional traumatic disturbances.

EMDR is not for everyone and some clients are suitable for treatment while others are not. In my experience, EMDR has provided more efficient and faster resolution of issues for many clients. The EMDR treatment process has worked well for a large number of my patients and clients. I encourage people to seek consultation with a qualified trauma clinician to evaluate the level of disturbance and specific situation as sometimes the presence of trauma in a person’s life can be overlooked as a factor in maladaptive behavior. I would encourage people who are interested in the treatment to visit the EMDR International Association ( for further information.

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