• EMDR Intensives

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    How Does EMDR Therapy Work? EMDR Before & After Comparison

    EMDR therapy is modeled after the natural functions of the human body that occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM). The human mind uses REM sleep to process daily emotional experiences. The traumatic experiences are stored in the brain with all the sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings that accompany them. The raw memories are “trapped” in the central nervous system and therefore cannot be processed normally.

    It is somewhat challenging to explain how EMDR produces results because the human brain is so complex. What we do know is that EMDR seems to unblock, unfreeze, and desensitize the information. The traumatic memories can then be processed and adaptively integrated.

    EMDR is carried out through various methods – using alternating, left-right, bilateral eye movements, tones, or kinesthetic stimulation. These techniques enhance information processing.

    What Happens in an 

    EMDR Session?


    • The client and the therapist discuss the plan of action, the target memories, and situations that are causing emotional distress
    • The therapist will help develop skills/behaviors the client may need for future situations
    • The therapist will ensure the client has different mechanisms to handle emotional distress so that the client can maintain equilibrium during and in between sessions


    • The client will identify 4 things:
      • A visual image related to a target memory
      • A negative belief about one’s self
      • Any related emotions and body sensations
      • A positive belief
    • As the client focuses on the above things, they are engaging in sets of eye movement or another form of EMDR such as sound or tapping sensations
    • The therapist encourages a “blank mind” in order to become aware of how they are feeling, thinking, etc.
    • Once the target memory no longer causes distress, the therapist will move onto the next target memory

    Phases taken from EMDR Institute Inc.

    Over the past 20+ years, EMDR has been a validated treatment resulting in reduced anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Studies consistently show that treatment with EMDR results in the elimination of the targeted emotions and the memory no longer triggers a painful emotional response. EMDR therapy works best with other forms of therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, where skills and behaviors can also be used day to day. The short-term benefits include immediate relief of emotional distress and removal of rehabilitating effects of the unresolved past trauma. In the long-term individuals can expect a return to normalcy, a greater sense of personal power, more rewarding relationships, and a more peaceful life.

    EMDR therapy helps children and adults – all ages. Therapists use EMDR with a wide range of challenges:
    • Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
    • Chronic illness and medical issues
    • Depression and bipolar disorders
    • Dissociative disorders
    • Eating disorders
    • Grief and loss
    • Pain
    • Performance anxiety
    • Personality disorders
    • PTSD and other trauma and stress-related issues
    • Sexual assault
    • Sleep disturbance
    • Substance abuse and addiction
    • Violence and abuse

    One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR therapy is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR therapy more fully and provide an opportunity to answer questions about the psychotherapy. Once therapist and client have agreed that EMDR is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR therapy may begin.
    A typical EMDR therapy session lasts from 50 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR may be used within a standard “talking” therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.

    Approximately 24 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR therapy effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety. The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. EMDR was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, the World Health Organization’s 2013 “Guidelines for the management of conditions that are specifically related to stress,” SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, and many other international health and governmental agencies. Research has also shown that EMDR can be an efficient and rapid treatment. For more information, go to our bibliography of EMDR research.