What is EMDR Therapy?

What Is EMDR? It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is defined by EMDR Canada as an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma and many other mental health problems. It was discovered by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987. While she was walking through the woods one day, she happened to notice that her own negative emotions lessened as her eyes darted from side to side. Then, she found the same positive effect in her clients.

To date, there have been numerous studies in support of how effective and efficient EMDR is for treating trauma. There have also been some studies and numerous reports by psychologists that have found EMDR to effectively and efficiently help with a number of other issues such as: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, fears, phobias, complicated grief, disturbing memories, pain disorders, performance anxiety, stress reduction, sexual and/or physical abuse, body dysmorphic disorders, personality disorders, and dissociative disorders.

But how does it actually work? Well, it seems to work similarly to the processing in the brain that happens during REM sleep. One moment can be frozen or stuck so that images, sounds, smells and feelings are experienced in the same way they were when the trauma incident occurred and feels just as bad as the first time. This can have a lasting negative effect on how a person is able to function and relate to other people. Whether helping to process trauma or any other issue EMDR works to help the brain process information, memories, sounds, and feelings in a way that makes them be seen in a new and less distressing way.

What can you expect if you decide that EMDR may be helpful for you? A typical EMDR session will last from 60 to 90 minutes. The first one to four sessions will involve history gathering, treatment planning and preparation to ensure you have coping skills and trust in your therapist. It is essential that enough time is taken in this initial stage so grounding and coping exercises can be used by you to feel safe and in control with processing any emotions that come up during and in-between sessions.

There are five more standardized phases where a therapist helps guide a client through the healing process. During these stages you do not need to re-live an experience or go into great detail. Your therapist will help guide you through the therapy, encourage use of coping strategies, and use check-ins so that you are always in control to make the process tolerable (see the link below for a more detailed description of the eight phases of EMDR). Depending on what is being worked on, EMDR can take as little as three sessions (after the initial stage), for a single trauma incident or span over many months of therapy. The type of problem, severity and number of the disturbance(s), and life circumstances will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR may also be used with other types of therapy depending on the treatment plan and types of issues being addressed, as agreed upon together by the client and therapist.

There are several therapists at Insight Psychological who are trained to practice EMDR therapy.

Cindy Mason, M.C., Registered Provisional Psychologist

Eight Phase Protocol of EMDR: