What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), as with most therapy approaches, focuses on the individual’s present concerns. However, rather than just talking about it, EMDR uses eye movements and other forms of stimulation to activate the brain’s ability to resolve these concerns. As a result, we feel better, not just think we are better!

What is different about EMDR?

  • EMDR’s focus is on the brain’s ability to constantly learn, modify, and adapt.
    • This adaptive emotional learning is referred to as “Adaptive Information Processing” (AIP).
    • Adaptive learning is constantly updating memory network systems, keeping what is important from past experiences and letting go of no longer necessary information.
  • Disturbing events are often emotionally charged in a way that prevents adaptive learning. These past emotionally charged events become isolated from more positive, adaptive experiences. When activated in the present, these negatively charged feelings and emotions distort our current perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors.   When our partner criticizes us, while we may know we are worthwhile, these negative emotions and sensations cause us to feel worthless.
  • EMDR treatment identifies these negative and positive networks and then uses bilateral stimulation, i.e., eye movements, alternative tapping, etc. as the catalyst to activate our adaptive learning system. The result is a consolidated memory network that keeps what is healthy, and lets go of past, no longer useful emotions, sensations, and beliefs. As a result, we not only know with are worthwhile, we feel it, too!

How was EMDR developed?

  • Shapiro, as part of her Ph.D. program and other environments, had knowledge of the use of eye positioning and movements related to a person accessing various components of memory.
  • Shapiro combined various forms of psychotherapy, including the use of eye movements for desensitization into a structure as a way to process the client’s disturbing memories.
    • Shapiro speculated that rapid eye movements would replicate the processing that occurs during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep.
    • Shapiro viewed the rapid eye movements as activating the client’s Adaptive Information Processing system, thereby allowing the negative memory networks to be updated to present, known adaptive responses and beliefs.

What does EMDR look like in treatment?

Overall Treatment Planning

  • Clients come to treatment expressing concerns.
  • The clinician will help the client understand the dynamics of the present concerns and how to adaptively manage them.
  • An overall treatment plan will be developed that will accomplish the client goals.
  • Within that treatment plan, EMDR therapy, along with other therapy approaches, will be used to accomplish treatment goals.

EMDR Procedures

  • The client will be instructed, through a set of questions, to access and activate the negative experience and the desired adaptive resolution.
  • Sets of rapid eye movement (or other forms of bilateral stimulation) will be applied.
  • The client is encouraged to just “free associate” and allow the brain to work through the experience.
  • Sets of eye movements will be alternated with brief client reports of what is being experienced.
  • EMDR processing will continue until the past experience has been updated to an adaptive present perspective.
    • With long standing issues, this process may take multiple sessions.


  • Once the disturbing experiences have been processed, the client and clinician work together to integrate these new insights and perspectives into their daily life.

Is it necessary to tell the clinician all the details of an experience in order for it to be processed?

No, full disclosure of the experience is not necessary for the experience to be processed.

Will emotions and sensations be experienced?

Yes – emotions and sensations may come up during processing, although the client will be prepared and safely managed by the clinician during processing.

Is EMDR like hypnosis?

No, during EMDR processing, the client is present and fully in control of the experience.

Is EMDR a brief treatment?

EMDR therapy , as with all treatment approaches, will help clients accomplish their treatment goals.

  • The length of time that it takes is dependent upon the client’s complexity.
  • Frequently EMDR therapy is only one of several treatment interventions used to accomplish the client’s treatment goals.

Supporting Your EMDR Treatment

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