March 17

What is EMDR therapy and how does it works?

Christy Shutok, LMHC, LPC

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is different than other forms of therapy because it targets your brain’s limbic system, known as the “emotional” part of the brain. Many trauma therapy approaches deal with the logical part of the left brain hemisphere. While these therapies can indeed be helpful to many trauma survivors, they do not necessarily deal with the part of the brain where maladaptive traumatic memories have been stored.

Those who have experienced trauma may continue to be affected by disturbing images, thoughts, beliefs, emotions and sensory experiences if it has not been reprocessed in the mid-brain. EMDR activates the information processing part of the brain, targets trauma memories that are “stuck, and helps the brain connect to healthy existing neural networks to then process and heal completely. This happens through a bilateral eye movement, audio sounds, and / or physical tapping.

Watch the following video from EMDR International Association:

Have I experienced trauma?

About 50% of women and 60% of men have experienced trauma. There are two main categories of trauma commonly referred to as Big “T” and little “t.” Big “T” traumas are the events most commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Big T Traumas

  • Natural disaster
  • Terrorist attack
  • Being in a combat or war zone
  • Car or plane accident
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical injury

Little t Traumas

  • Divorce
  • Legal trouble
  • Having a child
  • Conflict with a boss
  • Financial difficulty
  • Bullying

How can EMDR help?

Our brains have a natural way of recovering from distress. Traumatic events can block this process. EMDR helps the brain process memories that still have a “charge” through alternating eye movements, sounds, or physical tapping.  The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or flee response from the original event is resolved.

Am I a good candidate for EMDR?

EMDR is an evidenced based practice that is effective in treating whatever we consider to be stressful to our nervous systems. The fact of the matter is we all have “trauma.” Any distressing experience – a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, a medical issue, your parent’s divorce – that happened to you and continues to affect your life in a negative way or hold you back from being your best self is worth taking the time to work though and heal. So, yes, chances are you are a good candidate for EMDR

How many sessions does this take?

It really depends. It can be quicker and more effective than traditional talk therapy. That being said, it does take some time to “prep” with your therapist. Taking time for proper history taking, rapport building, and strengthening inner and outer resources is critical. So this is not a “one and done” therapy. 

I’d like to try this, where do I start?

The best place to start is www.emdria.org. This is the international association for EMDR, and a mega database for accurate information, plus a directory for you to find a trained EMDR clinician in your area.

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