When you need someone to help you with personal problems, you will probably feel that you do not want to go to just any psychologist. Instead you will be looking for a psychologist that is skilled and experienced in a form of therapy that will really make a difference to your life. EMDR is just such a form of therapy – one that has helped millions of people to date.

On this page you will find more information on EMDR, how it was developed, how it works, what conditions should ideally be treated with EMDR, etc.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of a wide array of psychological problems. It utilizes the information processing system and natural adaptive mechanisms of the brain to help you deal with (a) stressful memories and (b) the persistent negative effects of disturbing experiences (e.g. the effects of abuse, trauma, violent crimes, etc.)

The goal of EMDR is..

  • to help you process these experiences in a helpful way,
  • to minimize it’s effect on your personal functioning, and
  • to restore you to a robust state of psychological health.

To ensure that this happens, EMDR integrates the best approaches and techniques from different systems of therapy. It guides you through a structured process of re-processing the experiences that set the foundation for the problems you experience. It also empowers you to cope with present situations that trigger the problem. It also provides you with appropriate action plans for the future (including information, behaviors and skills that will enable you to permanently and consistently overcome the problem)

To date, EMDR has helped millions of people of all ages to relieve many forms of psychological stress.

How was EMDR developed?

In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that lateral eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts. Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically and, in 1989, she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Since then, EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, EMDR is a set of standardized processes that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.

How does EMDR work?

We know that when you are very upset, your brain cannot process the information effectively. One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering this moment may feel as bad as going through it the first time, that is, as if the images, sounds, smells and feelings are as real and as intense as the first time. Almost as if you are experiencing the same event from the past in the present.

Such improperly processed memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way you see the world, the way you experience life, how you feel about yourself and the way you relate to other people. What make it even more distressing is the fact that these memories are triggered subconsciously by seemingly unrelated events. The fact, however, is that it repeatedly has the same, automatic effect on you and your functioning. Almost as if you have no degree of control over it.

The best way to understand this phenomenon is to remember that every experience is filed in your memory bank in different parts, for example: the real event (the story), the feelings you experienced  (fear, anxiety, etc), your bodily reactions (pain, contracted muscles) and your feelings about self (helplessness, inadequate), When these different parts of the experience are integrated you can learn from the experience and adapt. If, however, integration does not take place,  you may experience a part of the story (e.g. the anxiety/fear) as an overwhelming and inexplicable reality – one that you often cannot control.

The techniques used in EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. It helps the brain to resume normal information processing and to restore the links between the different parts of the original experience. As a result of proper processing of the original experience one can learn from it and find ways to control it. The result of successful EMDR sessions) is that you will no longer relive the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You will still remember what happened, but it will be less upsetting, i.e. you will be desensitized. And it will therefore not have the same, intense effect on you.

In this sense EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM has (through research) been established as a sign that the brain is busy with deep levels of processing. During REM sleep your eyes will show rapid bilateral (left to right; right to left) eye movements. It is this exact observation that led to the use of bilateral eye movements as a tool that will help you process and integrate stressful experiences from the past. In fact, any form of bilateral stimulation of the brain – whether using bilateral eye movements, taps or tones – can be used to help the brain with deeper processing of experiences. Laboratory studies have identified several different, positive effects that bilateral stimulation has with regard to memory retrieval, reduction of negative emotions, imagery vividness, and attentional flexibility. For this reason bilateral brain stimulation is used in EMDR to help you more effectively and comprehensively process stressful events from the past.

Changes in emotions (like anxiety and fear) that occur after EMDR therapy, in fact the whole process of desensitization, are only byproducts of a comprehensive reprocessing of the experience. During treatment, negative emotions are replaced with positive ones, insights surface, body sensations change, and new behaviors spontaneously emerge, along with a new sense of self. In short, the traumas are transformed into learning experiences that rapidly unfold and strengthen the victim into survivor and then into “thriver.”

This concept of the transformation of the stored experience through a rapid learning process is the key to understanding the basis and application of EMDR. EMDR can, therefore, be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in new and less distressing ways, and minimize the negative impact of such experiences on normal functioning.

Which conditions can be treated with EMDR?

Scientific research and clinical experience have established that EMDR is effective in overcoming the debilitating effects of traumatic life events such as:

  • the loss (death) of loved one (complicated grief),
  • assault, robbery and violent crimes,
  • Physical abuse,
  • Sexual abuse and rape,
  • child abuse,
  • divorce, and
  • natural disasters

It has also been proven to be extremely helpful with other conditions like:

  • anxiety – including performance anxiety amongst athletes, students and executives, as well as anxiety due to relationship problems,
  • panic attacks,
  • depression
  • overwhelming fears (phobias),
  • stressors in your work environment (e.g. in policing, war, etc),
  • Stage fright (actors, musicians, public speakers),
  • nightmares, and
  • personality disorders.

What are the goals of EMDR therapy?

The goal of EMDR therapy is to help you process an experience that is causing problems in a helpful way. To do this, your therapist will use a  three pronged approach, addressing

  • The disturbing memories of the  past and the events surrounding it;
  • Situations in the present that trigger stress reactions related to the past events and the memories of it; and
  • The development of skills and attitudes needed for positive reactions in the future.

It is only by working through the combination of these three areas that a stressful memory  can be processed completely, the symptoms alleviated and the problem addressed effectively.

In the above paragraph the words “help you process the experience” does not mean talking about it. “Processing” simply means that the therapist uses guided and structured processes that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be “digested” and stored appropriately in your brain. The result of these processes will be that what is useful to you from an experience will be learned, that the experience  will be stored with appropriate emotions in your brain, and that it will guide you in positive ways in the future. During the process inappropriate emotions, negative feelings and debilitating beliefs will be  discarded and transformed.

The goal of EMDR therapy is to leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviours and interactions. It is also to empower you to manage the effect of stressful events yourself. It therefore includes mastering new behaviours and techniques that are needed for full restoration and health.

What is an EMDR session like?

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, computer screen with moving lights, tactile or headphones are 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.

During EMDR sessions your therapist will guide you through different phases of working with the problem you experience – called the EMDR protocol or plan for treatment. This  eight-phase treatment will comprehensively address the experiences that form the base of your fears, anxiety, depression, etc.

For more detailed information about these phases you can select on the following link:

The eight phases in EMDR Therapy

How long will I be in therapy with my EMDR Therapist

Although EMDR may produce results more rapidly than previous forms of therapy, speed is not the issue and it is important to remember that every client has different needs. For instance, one client may take weeks to establish sufficient feelings of trust (Phase Two), while another may proceed quickly through the first eight phases of treatment only to reveal, at a later stage, something even more important that needs treatment. Also, treatment is not complete until EMDR therapy has focused on the past memories that are contributing to the problem, the present situations that are disturbing, and what skills the client may need for the future.

What evidence is there that EMDR is a successful treatment?

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