Eye Movement Desensitization Reflex (EMDR)

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a a type of evidence based therapy primarily used for people who have experienced trauma. It involves thinking about a difficult memory while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone). There is also substantial research showing that EMDR can be effective with a wide range of mental health difficulties, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, grief, phobias, and self-esteem issues.

What happens during EMDR?

At the beginning of EMDR, clients will learn some new coping skills to help them manage their emotions. The therapist will teach a variety of stress reduction techniques that can be used between sessions. After these coping skills have been learned, the client and therapist will identify a target memory to focus on for processing. The client will think about this memory while also paying attention to a back-and-forth movement, sound, or vibration (like the therapist’s finger moving from side to side or a tone that beeps in one ear at a time).
This back-and-forth process is a form of bilateral stimulation and is used to activate both hemispheres of the brain at once to assist in processing this memory. The client will engage in bilateral stimulation for a short period of time, about 30-60 seconds, and then report to the therapist anything that they noticed about this memory. The client will engage in multiple short sets of bilateral stimulation until this memory becomes less disturbing. With repeated sets of bilateral stimulation, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity. Eventually, the treatment will shift to focusing on a positive belief and feeling while the client holds the memory in their mind.

How long does treatment last?

EMDR typically consists of about 12-16 sessions.

Is homework a part of EMDR?

Yes, the client will practice using their new coping skills in between therapy sessions. The homework assignments will typically take about 10-15 minutes per day.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reflex) Online Resources

National Center for PTSD
Provides an explanation of EMDR and short videos about this treatment option.

EMDR International Association
Provides additional details about EMDR and a video about patients’ experiences with EMDR.

American Psychological Association
Provides a more detailed explanation of EMDR and a case study of a patient’s experience with EMDR treatment.

About Face
Provides a more in-depth video of one patient’s experience with PTSD and his EMDR treatment.