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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the mid-1980s. EMDR is one of the newer “power” therapies to be acknowledged and accepted both by the professional community and the general public. Power therapies work much more quickly than traditional “talk therapy.”

EMDR works by targeting the lower, more primal parts of the mind. Talk therapy, in contrast, focuses mainly on the prefrontal cortex and relies on insight to effect change. EMDR works primarily through the subconscious, although insight often comes as a result.

It is theorized that EMDR also activates and quickly changes the mind/body continuum and therefore can be appropriately categorized as an “energy psychology” as well. Energy psychology is based on Chinese medicine and more particularly on the acupuncture/acupressure system. This system believes that chi, which is electricity or energy, travels through the meridians or rivers of acupuncture points in the body. This energy can become unbalanced by physical, emotional, or traumatic factors. Energy psychology postulates that by balancing this system the problems from these causes are quickly relieved.

EMDR works on many problems, but is especially effective with traumas. The therapist quickly moves his or her hand back and forth, while asking the client to move only their eyes while they track the hand’s movement. The client is directed to think of the trauma during the procedure.

After 20-25 hand movements the client is asked to focus on what issue, feeling, thought, or aspect of the trauma is now most prominent. The procedure is then repeated for this new target. The problem is often painlessly resolved after only a few sessions compared to traditional therapy, which often lasts for months or years. Like any other treatment, though, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing doesn’t work for everyone who tries it.

This movement of the eyes mimics the rapid eye movements that are made when a person is dreaming. It is believed that we shift short-term memory into long-term memory via REM. The emotional component in long-term memory is significantly reduced and is remembered as if from a great distance. Any trauma can become stuck.

For many people, this type of therapeutic technique can quickly and effectively remove this impediment and reprocess the information, thus relieving the problem.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Jef Gazley

APA Reference
Gazley, J. (2019). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 19 Jun 2019 (Originally: 17 May 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 19 Jun 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.