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Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach for working with traumatic and distressing memories.


EMDR allows you to reprocess trauma and heal the brain of the negative core beliefs created by the trauma. This processing simultaneously removes some of the extreme emotionality and vividness tied to the traumatic memories. 

EMDR-eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
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EMDR and the brain

Traumatic Memories: The Hippocampus

"Normal" everyday memories are sorted by our hippocampus. If our brain is like a library, the hippocampus is like a librarian who decides the right place to store events and memories. When traumatic events occur, they can overwhelm our hippocampus which stops it from doing its job. When this happens, memories are stored in their unprocessed form. These traumatic memories are easily triggered and can replay over and over. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to create hippocampal activity in session to help file the memories away correctly. 

what happens in emdr?

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There are 8 phases of EMDR, but the key phases can be broken down into Preparation and Reprocessing.

It is important to mention that there are many other parts of EMDR that help prepare you for the key phases. It is also important to remember that safety is an integral part of treatment and you will never be asked to do anything that makes you feel at risk or unsafe. 

preparation phase

During this phase you think of a troubling memory and identify an image of the worst moment of that memory. We then try to identify a negative or unhelpful belief about that moment. We then will explore the body feelings and emotions that come up as you think about that moment. 

processing phase

During this phase we have you think about the image and belief while at the same time making eye movements. We "go with" whatever comes up in your mind and notice what is happening. This process is repeated until the memory causes less and less distress. 


Although EMDR has 8 phases, it is not an 8-step therapy. The phases include history taking, client preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and re-evaluation. In most cases it is required that the therapist and client weave in and out of the various phases depending upon the needs of the individual client. 

Weaving in and Out Model


The diagram here illustrates the ways we may 'weave in and out' between the 8 phases of EMDR. This simply means that we may have to move from phase to phase out of order from time to time. For example, something new from your history may come up, or we may have to go back and prepare for something new. 

8 Phases of EMDR





There are three basic prongs of EMDR - our pAst, our present + our future.

PAST EVENTS - how are the past events coming up during present moment?

PRESENT TRIGGERS - What is happening now that is activating memories of the past?

FUTURE TEMPLATE - How would you like to feel, react or behave in place of current events?

3 prongs of EMDR
frequently asked questions about EMDR


Why do I need to make eye movements?


In EMDR you are asked to move your eyes from one side to another while thinking about your distressing memory. One way to pay attention from left to right is to follow the light moving on a light bar from side to side in your line of vision. Alternative versions of EMDR may have you pay attention to sounds or tapping sensations in a left-to-right sequence. This side-to-side motion is called bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation has been found to enhance memory processing and there are a number of theories explaining how it might do this. The important thing is to find a form of bilateral stimulation that you feel comfortable and safe with.

How long does treatment take?


EMDR sessions are sometimes slightly longer than typical therapy sessions (up to 90 minutes). The number of sessions needed will depend on the type and severity of trauma which you have experienced. It is estimated that for some individuals 6-12 sessions are necessary to process memories. For more severe symptoms more sessions may be necessary. 

What happens in session?


EMDR sessions will look different for different individuals because all memories are different. EMDR treatment usually begins with several sessions which might involve stabilization, grounding, and psycho-education. The standard EMDR therapy protocol follows eight phases which include resourcing, processing, and installation. This may vary. Processing is carried out using bilateral stimulation. This is facilitated by eye movements, auditory clicks, tapping, or tactile vibration buzzers. The stimulation used depends on your response and comfortability. 

What is EMDR used for?


There is a lot of psychological research supporting that EMDR is an effective treatment for post ­traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent studies have found that EMDR is also highly effective at treating anxiety disorders, grief, and other trauma-related disorders.

Does EMDR have side effects?


As with any other type of psychotherapy, EMDR asks you to think about distressing traumatic memories. For this reason, you may experience a temporary increase in distress during sessions and following sessions. 

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