What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that was developed by Francine Shapiro, in 1987, to assist clients in resolving disturbing and/or traumatic life experiences. It uses a specific structured approach to address past, present, and future aspects of disturbing memories.

EMDR is based on the adaptive information processing model which hypothesizes that symptoms surface when disturbing events have not been adequately processed at the time of the experience, and that once fully processed these disturbing events can be resolved. EMDR uses an integrative approach, combining elements of traditional psychotherapy orientations and physiological approaches. It combines mind, body, spirit – or to put it another way the intellectual, the emotional and the physical. A very simple example of how to use an integrative approach is the question: When you think of that experience what emotions come up, where do you feel that in your body, and what negative thoughts do you notice?

The most unique aspect of EMDR versus other more traditional psychotherapies is the use of bilateral stimulation of the brain (moving back and forth between the right brain and the left brain.) To do this the EMDR therapist uses different forms of bilateral stimulation such as eye movements (moving the eyes back and forth – right and left,) bilateral sound (through ear phones hearing sounds go back and forth between the right ear and the left ear,) or bilateral tactile stimulation (ex., pulsars that are held in the hands or bilateral tapping on palms.)

With EMDR, an EMDR therapist would combine bilateral stimulation with negative thoughts, visualized images, and body sensations. EMDR also utilizes “dual awareness” to allow the individual to be able to move between the disturbing material of the past and what’s going on in the present moment. The intention of dual awareness is to prevent re-traumatization from exposure to the disturbing memory.

EMDR was originally used to treat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,) currently it is used to treat many different types of issues including those that are less complicated than PTSD. Some of the other issues that can be addressed using EMDR are depression, anxiety, grief and loss just to name some of the more common difficulties for which folks seek counseling. Clients seek EMDR also for symptoms that result from a car accident, surgery/hospitalization, and other experiences that were sudden and/or traumatic.

EMDR is useful for performance enhancement such as acting and or performing, presenting or giving a speech, preparing for tests, and other professional skills that the client wants to strengthen.

Depending on the issue or reason for seeking EMDR treatment, the number of sessions needed vary. For a single incident trauma the general recommendation for number of EMDR sessions is approximately six sessions. The EMDR sessions do not necessarily include the initial intake assessment, which can take several sessions depending on the client’s psychological and emotional needs. A qualified EMDR therapist can assist the client in determining an approximate number of session’s that may be needed.

For more invasive, chronic and long term issues there is not a general guideline for the number of EMDR sessions. It may take quite a number of traditional psychotherapy sessions before moving into EMDR; again a qualified EMDR therapist can help the client assess what that might look like.

Oregon EMDR Therapist Network

The EMDR Therapist Network’s mission is to support the professional practices of those individuals who are committed to transforming the impact of trauma, and to educate the public and other service providers about the link between trauma, loss and grief, and personal (and global) health and well-being. To learn more, visit the Oregon EMDR Therapist Network website.