Trauma (E.M.D.R.)
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What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing.  The EMDR method is a form of Accelerated Information Processing which seems to unblock the information processing systems of the brain that were disturbed by painful or traumatic experiences.  This allows the nervous system to reprocess the experience in a new way, to reduce emotion stress and inaccurate self-assessments, and allow for more rapid recovery and integration of positive life experience.  The EMDR technique does two very important things.  First, it ‘unlocks’ the negative memories and emotions stored in the nervous system, and second, it helps the brain successfully process the experience.

How the EMDR Method Works:

Research on memory, attention and brain chemistry can offer some insight into how EMDR works.  The EMDR technique was initially modeled after the natural functions of the body that occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.  The human mind uses REM during sleep-time to help it process daily emotional experiences.  When disturbing experiences happen, they are stores in the brain with all the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompany them.  When a person is very upset the brain seems to be unable to process the experience as it would normally.  Therefore, the negative thoughts and feelings of the traumatic event get ‘trapped’ in the nervous system.

EMDR seems to unblock, unfreeze and desensitize the information, allowing it to be processed and adaptively integrated.  EMDR appears similar to what occurs naturally when we dream, or during REM sleep.  EMDR can be done through the use of alternating, left-right, bilateral eye movement tones, and kinesthetic stimulation.  These EMDR techniques, when combined with the other specific procedural steps used in EMDR, enhance information processing.  Because the human brain is so complex, it is challenging to fully explain how EMDR produces its results.

An EMDR Session:

At the beginning of an EMDR session, the therapist and the client work together to identify the focus for that particular session.  This may include the identification of a specific problem, memory, or issue that the client wants to work on; the formation of a ‘safe place’ and/or other positive thoughts that will be used to strengthen the client and build his/her sense of self.  The therapist works gently with the client, guiding them to revisit the traumatic incident.  As images and feelings arise, the client’s eye movements that cause the release of the memories.  The therapist provides sets of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic movements, while the client focuses on the particular material.

EMDR assists the emotions in becoming less intense, and the memory becomes less disturbing and more connected with positive thoughts and beliefs about oneself.  When EMDR is used to build and strengthen the client, as the movements progress, the positive thoughts and beliefs become stronger and more true to the client.  Clients are often asked to keep a journal of thoughts, memories, feeling and experiences that may come up between EMDR sessions.  This may be used as the focus for a future session or to mark growth and progress the client is making.

When the memory is brought to mind, the feelings are re-experienced in a new way.  EMDR makes it possible to gain the self-knowledge and perspective that will enable the client to choose their actions, rather than feeling powerless over their reactions.  This process can be complex if there are many experiences connected to the negative feelings.  The EMDR therapy sessions continue until the traumatic memories and emotions are relieved.

Research & EMDR:

EMDR is a treatment approach that has been widely validated over the past 20+ years.  Studies have shown that EMDR has produced promising results in reducing anxiety and in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms.  Research studies show that EMDR is very effective in helping people process emotionally painful and traumatic experiences.  When used in conjunction with other therapy modalities, EMDR helps move the client quickly from emotional distress to peaceful resolution of the issues or events involved.

Studies consistently show that treatments with EMDR result in elimination of the targeted emotion or memory.  The memory remains, but the negative response is neutralized.  The EMDR technique is most effective when used in conjunction with other traditional methods of therapy in treating these and many other emotional disorders.  The short-term benefits of EMDR is simple and straightforward the immediate relief of emotional distress and the elimination of the debilitating effect of unresolved past trauma.  Longer-term benefits of EMDR therapy include the restoration of each client’s natural state of emotional functioning.  This return to normalcy brings with it a greater sense of personal power, more rewarding relationships and a more peaceful life.

Many patients who have made slow progress in the past, or who have not benefited from more traditional therapies say that with EMDR they have finally found something that works for them.

Issues Dealt With Through EMDR:

EMDR has a broad base of published case reports and controlled research that support it as a scientifically validated treatment of trauma.  Recent research has supported EMDR as being effective in helping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and it is suggested to be more efficient than other treatments.

Positive results from EMDR research have been reported with many groups of people including the following:

  • Persons with phobias & panic disorders
  • Crime victims
  • War Victims
  • People who are experiencing significant grief and loss issues
  • Victims of natural disasters
  • Sexual assault victims
  • Accident, surgery, and burn victims
  • People who are experiencing symptoms of sexual dysfunction
EMDR to Build Positive Patterns:

As well as being effective in working with trauma-related difficulties, people engaged in business, sports and the performing arts have also benefited from EMDR as a tool to enhance performance.  In general, EMDR is appropriate to assist people in choosing positive thoughts and changing patterns of behaviors
and emotions so that their everyday life is more satisfactory for them.

EMDR With Children & Youth:

EMDR is especially effective with children and youth.  They often quickly deal with their painful memories using EMDR.  They tend to require less time in session and fewer sessions and fewer sessions than adults to process their disturbing thoughts or memories.  EMDR is often used in combination with play therapy, psycho-education and other forms of child centered therapy.

EMDR has been used to treat children and youth with the following symptoms:

  • PTSD (resulting from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Social fears (ie: fear of school)
  • Depression
  • Chemical Dependence
  • Divorce adjustment
  • Peer Conflicts
  • Night terrors
  • Adjustment disruptions/disorders
  • Low self-esteem resulting from learning disabilities
What Training is Needed to use EMDR?

Only practicing, licensed psychotherapists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors can receive EMDR training.  These are the only mental heath professionals qualified to use EMDR therapy with clients.  A clinical background in necessary for proper application of the EMDR technique.  This is a highly specialized method that requires supervised method that requires supervised training for therapeutic effectiveness and client safety.

For more information on EMDR visit the website:

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Deborah Herrewynen - Registered Psychologist
tel: 780-945-9066