What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a powerful psychotherapy approach that has been proven highly effective in the treatment of traumatic life experiences. Since the development of the technique in the late 1980s, over two million people throughout the world have been successfully treated by over 100,000 EMDR clinicians.

Studies have shown that by using EMDR, people can achieve recovery in a much shorter time than with traditional talk-oriented therapy. EMDR has been designated as an effective treatment for PTSD and other trauma- and stress-related disorders by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the World Health Organization (WHO), and many others.

In addition to trauma, clinicians have used EMDR for a wide range of challenges.

The theory behind EMDR is that its use of the unique technique called bilateral dual attention stimulation (commonly abbreviated as DAS) helps the brain process negative memories that have become “frozen in time.” These memories typically include not only thoughts but also emotions and sensations. Click here to learn more about DAS and the theoretical model behind EMDR. In addition to this unique technique, EMDR treatment can be said to incorporate elements from well-established therapies. For example, the consideration given to childhood experiences fits into the psychodynamic model. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is represented in the concepts of negative and positive self-assessments (across the categories of self-worth, responsibility, safety/vulnerability, and control/choices), dysfunctional reactions and behaviors, and in the attention given to how all of these may be expressed in a client’s physical symptoms (e.g., tension or pain). Lastly, EMDR is a client-centered therapy in that it sees people as capable of self-understanding and as having a vast, innate potential for healing and growth under the right circumstances.

EMDR treatment follows an 8-phase protocol that is guided by an overall three-pronged protocol related to the client’s past, present, and future. DAS is used in some of the 8 phases.

Duration of treatment depends upon the number of disturbing events, their intensity, and the age at which they occurred. For example, someone with a single event adult-onset trauma can be successfully treated in under five sessions. Conversely, a greater number of sessions may be necessary for an individual who has been exposed to multiple traumas as an adult, or whose negative experiences began earlier in life and have caused long-term symptoms.

In addition to the other EMDR sections on this website, if you would like to read more about EMDR’s beginnings, research and other related topics, go to the EMDR Institute website.