EMDR Therapy What It Is?

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a trauma resolution therapy developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro. When a traumatic event happens, overwhelming emotions can prevent an individual from fully processing the experience. Recalling the memory can feel like reliving the moment and may interfere with daily functioning.

EMDR helps the patient process and resolve stored memories using an eight-phase approach. EMDR addresses the past experience of trauma, the present triggers for dysfunctional emotions and beliefs, and the positive experience needed to improve future mental and emotional functioning.

During each session, the patient attends to a disturbing memory, trigger or expected future event, while simultaneously focusing on external sensory stimuli, such as bilateral (left-right) tones, hand taps or eye movements. This process is tailored to the needs of the patient and then repeated a number of times.

After each session, the patient processes the experience and shares the associations that came up during EMDR. In most cases, patients discover new insights that give them a new perspective on a traumatizing event. The process encourages patients to challenge cognitive distortions and relieves the emotional and physiological symptoms of trauma. The therapist provides guidance on the material the patient should focus on in the next set.

The goal of EMDR is to enhance the patient’s ability to process the memory and create more adaptive connections and associations. With new insights, the EMDR process transforms the memory and relieves stress.


Research suggests that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing may help relieve the stress and anxiety associated with trauma. The American Psychological Association and the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies have approved EMDR to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Being able to think about a traumatic event from a more detached perspective allows individuals to reframe the memory and release the negative emotions associated with the memory. In as little as one session, patients have reported improvements.

Although scientific evidence is sparse, there are a number of theories about what makes EMDR so effective for treating trauma. Some believe the rapid eye movements involved in EMDR are similar to the process of REM that occurs during sleep. Others believe EMDR reactivates parts of the brain, allowing it to process the difficult memory rather than shutting down.


Most of the research supporting Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing focuses on treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although EMDR has been adapted to treat other conditions such as anxiety disorders, it is most often used to help patients cope with trauma. Examples of trauma may include rape, military combat, parental neglect, accidents or injuries, severe illness or health problems, and emotional, sexual or physical abuse.