Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

What is EMDR?

An effective evidenced-based treatment for trauma, anxiety, grief, dissociation, among others.  Dana is trained to use EMDR with children, adolescents and adults.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  Repeated studies show that by using EMDR people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

How does EMDR help?

Traumatic incidents are stored differently in the brain than non-traumatic experiences.  The emotions, thoughts and sensory perceptions, which were appropriate at the time of the trauma, can be triggered throughout the person’s life at times when trauma is not present.

EMDR assists clients in reprocessing traumatic incidents so they can be stored more functionally in the memory as solely a memory.  EMDR also assists clients in uncovering the beliefs that developed as the result of the traumatic incidents, and helps them to remove these negative beliefs.  The EMDR therapist assists the client in replacing the negative beliefs with positive, adaptive beliefs about themselves.

What is an EMDR session like?

The EMDR process begins in a similar manner to other psychotherapy techniques.  After the therapist gathers some history and information about the client, the client highlights which memories they would like to target for the EMDR work.  The therapist assists the client in uncovering negative beliefs, which developed from those memories, and in determining what positive beliefs the client would prefer to hold.  The therapist also assists the client in reaching back in time for other possible memories, which support the negative beliefs.

Once the preparatory work is done, the client is assisted in recalling the memories while the therapist facilitates eye movements, sound or a tapping device to bilaterally stimulate the brain.  The sets of bilateral stimulation of the brain are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and the client feels more secure in positive thoughts and beliefs about themselves; for example, “I did the best I could.”

EMDR has in common with many other trauma treatment techniques the use of “dual focus,” where the client remembers the upsetting event while also being aware that they are in a safe environment, in the present moment.  Further, the eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation)  mimic the period of sleep referred to as “REM” sleep or “rapid eye movement.”  This portion of sleep is frequently considered to be the time when the mind processes the recent events in the person’s life.

Is EMDR safe to use with children?

In my work with children and adults, it’s been observed that similar symptoms diminish faster with young children as compared to adults. Children appear more able to undergo rapid change.  It seems that a trauma, anxiety, or a phobia has had less time to take hold throughout a young person’s mind and body. Whatever our hypothesis, it is significant that EMDR seems to help children move in positive directions. EMDR is a useful approach with younger, less verbal children. While administered therapeutically, the child can feel that he or she is engaging in a game played between therapist and child. When children are having fun, they are probably more open to being in a therapist’s office.

How effective is EMDR? 

EMDR has been extensively researched and developed, and studies consistently show that EMDR effectively decreases or eliminates the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder for the majority of clients.

EMDR is also used in the treatment of numerous other conditions, including: panic attacks; generalized anxiety disorder; grief; dissociative disorders; phobias; eating disorders; performance anxiety; addictions; and stress reduction.

For more information on EMDR therapy, contact Dana Carretta.