What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is an eight-phase psychotherapy approach developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1989 to address trauma in adults. There are now more studies on EMDR for Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) than any other psychotherapeutic approach. EMDR has been approved by APA, WHO, the Department of Defense, and SAHMSA (emdria.org and emdr.com) as the treatment of choice for PTSD. EMDR has since been expanded for use with children and adolescents and is used for anxiety, depression, phobias, smaller life disturbances, and performance enhancement.

Dr. Shapiro conceived the Adaptive Information Processing model to explain the mechanisms by which EMDR assists clients in moving a disturbing event to a more adaptive and helpful response. The therapist helps the client determine current disturbing triggers with its image, thoughts, and feelings associated with it and traces it back to the foundational event. The client then is instructed to think of the negative event and the therapist has the client move his eyes back and forth, or listen to alternating sounds or taps on their hands back and forth. The therapist asks the client what he is experiencing, and the therapist continues with the alternating stimulation after intervals where the client reports what they are experiencing. The majority of the session may focus on this alternating stimulation and the reprocessing of the disturbing event. A baseline measure is taken at the beginning of the session and is used to assess the client’s reprocessing. The reprocessing is not complete until the client reports the disturbance is at a “0”.

As with most therapies the mechanism for EMDR is not yet understood. One hypothesis is the dual attention aspect of EMDR. The therapist has the client focus on the alternating stimulation while the client thinks of the disturbing incident which may allow the brain to reprocess and have a more adaptive response.

EMDR is now used for adults, adolescents and children in other diagnostic and life challenges, such as depression, anxiety, OCD and phobias.  It is also used with stressors, such as divorce, grief, job loss and medical traumas.