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Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique that utilizes a characteristic motion of the eyes in conjunction with therapeutic guidance to bring about emotional healing, sometimes at an accelerated rate. Although not part of the original EMDR teachings, clinical experiences have repeatedly demonstrated that EMDR also helps accelerate the physical healing process.

What is the history of EMDR?

EMDR has been used by trained mental health professionals since 1989. Its originator, Francine Shapiro PhD, discovered that moving her eyes in certain directions reduced emotional tension. Francine did further investigation into this phenomenon making EMDR the subject of her doctoral thesis in 1987. Integrating her clinical experience, Francine has formulated a unique method which she calls EMDR.

Who can benefit from EMDR?

Anyone who has ever experienced an upset that they have not recovered from. Often these people have one or more of the following symptoms in varying degrees: feeling “stuck”, excess stress/tension, depression, anxiety, restlessness, sleep trouble, fatigue, appetite disturbances, and ongoing physical health concerns despite treatment. In the more severe cases: panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, obsessions, compulsions, eating disorder, and suicidal tendencies.

On the physical health front, EMDR is also a wonderful technque to assist with the healing of any physical health concern.

How does EMDR treatment work?

When an upset is experienced, it can become locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sounds, thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. This upset is stored in the brain (and also the body) in an isolated memory network preventing learning from taking place. Old material just keeps getting triggered over & over again and you end up feeling “stuck” emotionally. In another part of your brain, in a separate network, is most of the information you need to resolve the upset. It’s just prevented from linking up to the old stuff. Once processing starts with EMDR, the 2 networks can link up. New information can then come to mind to resolve the old problems.

How effective is EMDR?

When compared to other methods of therapy (psychoanalysis, cognitive, behavioral, etc), EMDR has been rated as far more effective by mental health professionals. Clients experience emotional healing at an accelerated rate. If we use the metaphor of a driving a car through a tunnel to get to the other side, (where the tunnel represents the journey of healing and the other side of the tunnel represents the healed state), EMDR is like driving your car through the tunnel at very high speeds. Because of this accelerated processing, you should notice improvement within each session.

How does the overall treatment with EMDR look?

EMDR focuses first on the past, second on the present and third on the future. The past is focused on first because it is the past unresolved pain (whether it is childhood or the more recent past) which is causing pain in the present. Dealing with the past is therefore going to the root of the problem. For example, if a client comes in with depression and she has a history of being depressed since a death in her family, we would focus on the time around the death first because it is the root of the depression. To only focus on the symptoms of the depression in the present would be like taking an aspirin for a headache caused by a brain tumor rather than working with the brain tumor.

Once the past pain has been cleared, most of the present symptom picture will also be cleared. If anything is left unresolved in the present, it is attended to next.

Then comes preparation for the future. Many people have fears about healing … how their life will change, how they will function with their new perspective on the world, etc. “Future” work is about being prepared.

Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR

Psych Central Staff

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APA Reference
Psych Central. (2018). Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
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