What Is EMDR Therapy? | Overview & Why It Works For Trauma

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on July 26, 2023

If you have experienced a traumatic event, you may benefit from eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This type of therapy can help you reprocess traumatic memories using bilateral stimulation.

After a traumatic event, many people experience distressing symptoms such as anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks. These issues sometimes signal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Whether or not you have a PTSD diagnosis, it’s important to seek help for trauma-related symptoms. 

Get Started On The Road To Recovery.

Get Confidential Help 24/7. Call Today!

(419) 904-4158

One of the most effective trauma treatments is called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). At Ohio Recovery Center (ORC), our compassionate clinicians offer EMDR for anyone who struggles with trauma and disturbing memories.

What Is EMDR Therapy? 

EMDR is a type of therapy that can help you reprocess traumatic memories and recover from trauma-related symptoms

A relatively new treatment, it was introduced in 1989 by American psychologist Francine Shapiro. It focuses on changing negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that may result from a disturbing event, such as feelings of guilt or worthlessness.

How EMDR Works

During EMDR treatment, your therapist will ask you to focus on a distressing memory, belief, or body sensation. However, you will not have to talk about your trauma in detail. This aspect can make EMDR much more comfortable than other types of trauma therapy. 

As you focus, your therapist will guide you through bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation is any stimulation that occurs in a rhythmic, side-to-side pattern. 

For example, your therapist may ask you to focus on their fingers as they move them back and forth. Alternatively, you may hold two buzzers that vibrate in a left-right pattern, or you may wear headphones that play a tone that alternates between your left and right ear. 

All forms of bilateral stimulation can help your brain reprocess your trauma memories in a healthy way. 

Get Started On The Road To Recovery.

Get Confidential Help 24/7. Call Today!

(419) 904-4158

EMDR Sessions & Phases

If you have a single traumatic memory, EMDR typically involves three to six sessions. People with multiple or more complex traumatic experiences may need 12 or more sessions. In either case, most sessions last between an hour and 90 minutes.

EMDR treatment consists of eight phases:

  1. History-taking, in which the therapist gathers information about your symptoms and develops your personalized treatment plan
  2. Client preparation, in which the therapist describes what to expect from EMDR therapy sessions and teaches you stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness
  3. Assessment, in which the therapist helps you identify which traumatic memories and negative beliefs you want to target
  4. Desensitization, in which the therapist asks you to focus on your memories, beliefs, or body sensations while guiding you through bilateral stimulation 
  5. Installation, in which the therapist helps you replace negative beliefs related to your trauma with positive beliefs 
  6. Body scan, in which the therapist asks you to focus on the memory and the positive belief while noticing your physical sensations
  7. Closure, in which the therapist helps you return to a calm state and discusses how you can reduce negative thoughts or feelings that may arise between sessions
  8. Reevaluation, in which the therapist reviews your progress and helps you prepare for your next session

Why EMDR Therapy Works For Trauma

Numerous clinical trials have shown that EMDR can play an important role in the trauma healing process. 

In addition, EMDR is recommended as an effective treatment by multiple organizations, including the American Psychological Association (APA), World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

However, while EMDR works, researchers have not determined exactly how it works. 

Adaptive Information Processing (API)

Although EMDR is still being understood, most experts explain its effectiveness using the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model. 

Developed by Francine Shapiro, the creator of EMDR, the AIP model is a theory that attempts to explain how our brains store traumatic memories and how we can heal from them.

According to the theory, when you experience a traumatic event, your brain may struggle to store it properly as a memory. As a result, your body might feel as though you are still in danger, leading to nightmares, flashbacks, and other PTSD symptoms. 

During EMDR, bilateral stimulation may help your brain store traumatic memories correctly and recognize that you are no longer in danger. 

You may then notice a significant decrease in trauma-related symptoms. Also, as mentioned above, EMDR can help you replace negative beliefs related to your trauma (such as “I am helpless”) with positive beliefs (such as “I am strong”).

Who Benefits From EMDR?

Studies suggest that EMDR can benefit people of all ages. While it’s most often used for those with PTSD, it can also treat trauma-related symptoms in people with other mental health conditions, including:

Like all types of therapy, EMDR may not work for everyone. After a session, some people experience uncomfortable side effects, such as mood swings, vivid dreams, and anxiety. 

However, your therapist or treatment team will give you tools to manage these effects and stay calm between sessions. Still, if you find the effects overwhelming, you should talk to your treatment team. They may recommend switching to another form of treatment. 

To learn more about EMDR, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer a variety of evidence-based mental health treatments to help you or your loved one thrive.

  1. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine — Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: A Conceptual Framework https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122545/
  2. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work — Adaptive Information Processing Theory: Origins, Principles, Applications, and Evidence https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32420834/
  3. United States Department of Veterans Affairs — Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/emdr.asp
  4. World Health Organization — WHO releases guidance on mental health care after trauma https://www.who.int/news/item/06-08-2013-who-releases-guidance-on-mental-health-care-after-trauma

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

Prefer Texting?
We've got you covered.

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.
Let us walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help:
100% Free & Confidential. Call (419) 904-4158
(419) 904-4158