What Is EMDR Therapy and Will It Help Me?

EMDR: The "Breakthrough" Therapy For Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma

EMDR for Trauma or Emotional Distress

I love my work as a therapist being able to provide Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for clients who have experienced trauma and/or emotional distress.  EMDR helps clients overcome suffering from their past to live at peace and empowered in the present. When I first heard about EMDR therapy, I was uncertain and did not understand completely how it could work. But, when my co-worker decided to be trained in EMDR, I joined her. I have been grateful every day since.

EMDR Can Treat Many Chronic Symptoms Too

EMDR psychotherapy is often used to treat troubling symptoms such as anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, avoidance, panic, sleep disturbance, and flashbacks that can result from having endured a traumatic experience. Where traditional therapeutic modalities have had limited success in treating trauma; EMDR has been proven effective in decreasing these sometimes chronic symptoms, and the therapeutic benefits appear to be permanent.

As an EMDR therapist, I have witnessed clients transform their lives from difficult past events. Francine Shapiro, PhD founder of EMDR, put it simply: "If we are bullied in elementary school, instead of the brain digesting it and letting it go, it actually gets stored in the brain with the emotions, physical sensations, and beliefs that were there at that time. People just don't realize why they continue to feel anxiety in social situations because the situation is linking them to an unprocessed memory, and those feelings are coming up automatically.

Partial Processing of Trauma Memories

Ordinarily your mind and body manage to process new information or experiences without even being aware of it.  However, when something out of the ordinary happens and you are traumatized by a disturbing and overwhelming event (e.g. assault, or car accident) or your life is threatened or you are repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. going to war, childhood abuse or neglect), your normal coping strategies can become overloaded.  This overloading can then result in these disturbing memories remaining frozen in your brain or "unprocessed. The unprocessed memories are stored in the brain's limbic system in a "raw" and emotional way, rather than in a "verbal story" way. The limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations which are disconnected from the brain's cortex where  we use language to store memories.  The limbic system's traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events that resemble the difficult experiences you have suffered. Even if the actual memory of the traumatic experience is "forgotten" or suppressed, the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger, depression, and self loathing are continually triggered in the present.  Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can then become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain's memory networks enabling you to process the traumatic memory in a natural way, and link it with positive experiences and memories.

EMDR - An Effective and Efficient Therapy

EMDR is a well researched, evidence based, and effective therapy that can help you to regain your life to live more freely in the present, not stuck in the past, or fearful of your future. My work with clients has further confirmed to me that EMDR is effective, efficient, life-changing and immeasurably helpful in my work with clients.


For a comprehensive Q&A with Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., the founder of EMDR, please go to this NY Times blog post: http://consults.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/27/ask-an-expert-about-e-m-d-r

Recommended Reading: Getting Past Your Past (2013) Shapiro, Francine.