What is EMDR Therapy and How Does it Work?
EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy) is an empirically driven and internationally recognized therapeutic model developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987. Decades of extensive research have shown EMDR’s effectiveness in treating a diverse range of issues, including trauma, PTSD, and anxiety—just to name a few.
This powerful intervention combines mindfulness, imagery, and cognitive techniques into a structured treatment plan designed to meet each individual’s specific therapeutic needs. In EMDR therapy, healing occurs through the process of stimulating the client’s intrinsic capacity to heal. It is based on the premise that the mind and body are naturally designed to work toward healing and mental wellness.
Case conceptualization for EMDR therapy involves mapping out a treatment plan that explores all aspects of a person’s life. That could include their attachment background, trauma history, personal coping skills, and internal and external resources.
The process of doing EMDR therapy usually entails focusing on a disturbing or traumatic memory while performing bilateral eye movements, doing bilateral tapping, or listening to bilateral oscillating tones. This stimulation enables the client to reprocess and resolve trauma while developing insight into their circumstances. In this way, EMDR gets right to the source of traumatic pain and allows for deeper healing, making it more efficacious than traditional talk therapy.
Is EMDR Therapy Effective?
EMDR therapy has been the subject of more controlled research than all other treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) combined. There are more than 30 randomized studies and hundreds of peer reviews that document the treatment gains made with EMDR therapy.
Because of the level of expertise required, only mental health professionals who are licensed or eligible to be licensed to practice psychotherapy are accepted for training through EMDR International Association-approved training programs.
What Is The Benefit Of Utilizing EMDR Therapy With Your Clients?
EMDR therapy has often been found to be more efficient and comprehensive in addressing symptoms of trauma than active listening, behavior therapy, and many other therapeutic approaches. The therapists at EMDR Center of the Rockies use this modality with the bulk of their clients. It treats myriad issues, including—but not limited to—PTSD, complex trauma, grief, addiction, maladaptive behaviors, relationship issues, as well as anxiety and depression.
Another benefit of EMDR is that it does not require the client to discuss detailed information about a traumatic experience, making therapy feel less invasive and intimidating. Additionally, it doesn’t involve doing homework, keeping a journal, or any other form of “busy work.” The resolution of trauma is also more comprehensive with EMDR since it addresses cognitions, emotions, and aspects of memories that are held somatically.
As a therapist, EMDR allows your clients to challenge unhealthy narratives associated with trauma and eliminate the emotional charge from painful memories. It also lessens the impact of present-day triggers—and future concerns about those triggers. As your clients progress, they’ll develop new adaptive capacities, increase confidence, and improve positive self-beliefs.
What is EMDR Therapy Like?
EMDR typically involves 8 phases of therapy, a process that helps counselors map out their treatment plan and measure progress. It also allows clients to better understand their role in healing and what is to be expected from EMDR therapy sessions.
In application, the Dual Attention Bilateral Stimulation that is used (back and forth eye movements, alternating tapping, or oscillating tones) activates numerous neurological systems that lead to resolution.
As maladaptive memory networks become linked to more adaptive networks, a shift from implicit to explicit memory occurs. That shift engages the brain’s information processing system, which is intrinsically designed to foster an adaptive resolution to an adverse experience, whatever the source of that experience may be.
Sometimes, clients worry that choosing EMDR as a treatment option means phasing out talk therapy—but that is not the case. EMDR specialists often incorporate talk therapy into treatment because it can be an important avenue for building trust and rapport in the therapeutic relationship.
Other modalities, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), can be incorporated into the preparation for EMDR therapy. This can help clients build their capacity for affect regulation, which is an important skill to possess before working to reprocess trauma.
How Does EMDR Therapy Impact Work As A Therapist?
EMDR is not just a treatment method; it’s a comprehensive approach to healing on a deep and lasting level. In many ways, this modality is life-changing for clinicians because they see for themselves just how life-altering therapy can be for their clients.
Instead of focusing on managing symptoms, EMDR allows you to help your clients actually eliminate triggers and overcome mental health issues. With PTSD and trauma, EMDR removes the negative charge from a painful memory and creates more adaptive emotions around that memory. This way, it no longer triggers unpleasant feelings or unwanted reactions or behaviors.
What is really powerful about EMDR therapy is that its structured format gives both the clinician and the client a way of monitoring progress and adjusting treatment as sessions evolve. At the same time, it enables clients to hold themselves accountable and make measurable changes they can actually see.
At EMDR Center of the Rockies, we conceptualize treatment through the lens of EMDR therapy and the Adaptive Information Processing model (the overarching therapeutic theory of EMDR therapy). We do that because we have witnessed firsthand its ability to alter the course of people’s lives. The reprocessing that occurs with EMDR therapy can have a global effect on people—changing negative thought patterns, emotions, beliefs, behaviors, and reactions in a profound and sustainable way.
We are honored to work with other clinicians and therapists to create the most effective and positive therapeutic experience possible.
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 In S. N. Gold (Ed.), APA handbook of trauma psychology: Trauma practice (pp. 193–212). American Psychological Association.
 Shapiro, F., & Solomon, R. (2017). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. In S. N. Gold (Ed.), APA handbook of trauma psychology: Trauma practice (pp. 193–212). American Psychological Association.