Northeast Counseling & Coaching

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a unique and highly effect treatment method used for many disorders. Current research points to highly effective treatment for trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

What is EMDR? 

The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilizing this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems.  

What happens when you are traumatized? 

Most of the time your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed". Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a "raw" and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, and which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way. 

What is an EMDR session like? 

EMDR utilities the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist's finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings. 

With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.                                                                                   

What can EMDR be used for?

In addition to its use for the treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, EMDR has been successfully used to treat:

* anxiety and panic attacks

* depression

* stress

* phobias

* sleep problems

* complicated grief

* addictions

* pain relief, phantom limb pain

* self-esteem and performance anxiety

Can anyone benefit from EMDR? 

EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of your past traumas and allowing you to live more fully in the present. It is not, however, appropriate for everyone. The process is rapid, and any disturbing experiences, if they occur at all, last for a comparatively short period of time. Nevertheless, you need to be aware of, and willing to experience, the strong feelings and disturbing thoughts, which sometimes occur during sessions.  

How long does treatment take? 

EMDR can be brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy program. EMDR sessions can be for 60 to 90 minutes.  

Will I will remain in control and empowered? 

During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.  

What evidence is there that EMDR is a successful treatment? 

EMDR is an innovative clinical treatment which has successfully helped over a million individuals. The validity and reliability of EMDR has been established by rigorous research. There are now nineteen controlled studies into EMDR making it the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma, (Details on and and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD.  

EMDR Fact Sheet  

"The greatest revolution in our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives." - William James  

EMDR stands for "Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing." It was initially discovered by Frances Shapiro in 1989. Hundreds of therapists around the nation have been trained in the EMDR techniques by Ms. Shapiro and through the work of the EMDR Network in Pacific Grove, California.  

EMDR is an intervention to help individuals who are survivors of any kind of traumatic event, including - but not limited to - abuse (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional), natural disasters, accidents, personal crisis or tragedy, or war. The procedure includes facilitation of eye movement while the person is guided through an account of the trauma. It is not necessary for the client to detail the negative experiences out loud during EMDR. The procedure can help individuals resolve these negative experiences and to maintain a more positive self-concept, both in relation to the trauma, and overall.  

The treatment of traumatic events with the EMDR method is based upon the belief that there is a physiological component to every experience. It is believed that when an incident occurs that is "traumatic," that the brain processes necessary for information processing are disturbed. This seems to "freeze" the information in its original anxiety-producing form, complete with the original image, negative self-assessment, and other related symptoms. Because the information has not been sufficiently processed, it continues to surface in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may be characterized by intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares.  

These symptoms may be resolved through use of EMDR, as the special eye movements allow the "frozen" information to be processed and integrated as part of the normal information gathering process that we all experience after an event has occurred. The complete EMDR process includes a three-part approach. First, the therapist must address the original incident that established the "crisis." Second, the therapist must elicit from the client the current internal and environmental "triggers" that cause flashbacks or negative experiences. Third, a new pattern must be established by the client through EMDR to replace the previous (negative) memory patterns.  

What is an EMDR session like?  

"During EMDR treatment, the client is asked to hold in mind an image of the trauma, a negative self-cognition, negative emotions, and related physical sensations about the trauma. While doing so, the client is instructed to move her or his eyes quickly and laterally back and forth for about 15 to 20 seconds, following the therapist's fingers.  

Other forms of left-right alternative stimulation are sometimes used. The client then reports the images, cognitions, emotions, and physical sensations that emerged. This procedure continues until desensitization of troubling material is complete and positive self-cognitions have replaced the previous negative self-cognition." (Wilson and Becker, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1995, Vol. 63, No. 6, 928-937).  

Additional steps might include the client keeping a running log of any anxiety-provoking incidents or memories that surface, with the goal of resolving those memories in future sessions.