EMDR for Trauma, Stress and Anxiety

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a method psychotherapists use to treat a number of symptoms and problems that clients bring to them. EMDR uses eye movements to stimulate memory networks in the brain to promote psychotherapeutic healing. Below are answers to commonly asked questions about EMDR. It can be used as a short term targeted treatment or within a longer term therapy. If you think EMDR might be able to help you, please feel free to contact me to discuss (707) 996-4416.

What is EMDR?

As stated by EMDRIA, “EMDR is a phased, scientifically validated, and integrative psychotherapy approach based on the theory that much of psychopathology is due to traumatic experience or disturbing life events. These result in the impairment of the client’s innate ability to process and to integrate the experience or experiences within the central nervous system. 

The core of EMDR treatment involves activating components of the traumatic memory or disturbing life event and pairing those components with alternating bilateral or dual attention stimulation. This process appears to facilitate the resumption of normal information processing and integration. This treatment approach can result in the alleviation of presenting symptoms, diminution of distress from the memory, improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.”

EMDRIA approved trainer, Laurel Parnell on EMDR

How does EMDR work?

It is hypothesized that the EMDR procedure causes neural networks holding a traumatic memories to connect with memory networks holding more adaptive and positive information. When a traumatic event occurs thoughts, images, emotions and sensations related to the event are stored together. EMDR directly works with these components of memory: “the AIP [Adaptive Information Processing] model conceptualizes EMDR as working directly with cognitive, affective, and somatic components of memory to forge new associative links with more adaptive material.”

A memory usually causes trouble when distorted thoughts are part of the memory. For example, a sexual abuse survivor might have stored the distorted thought, “I am dirty” together with the memory of the abuse. This distorted thought may cause later difficulty when that specific memory network is triggered.

What happens during an EMDR session?

Initial EMDR sessions are usually scheduled for a session-and-a-half (75 minutes) to allow time for full processing. Later EMDR sessions may be done in the span of a regular session (50 minutes). At the beginning of an EMDR session a target memory is identified for processing. Often this is a memory that is easily identified. Other times strong feelings aroused due to a current event, a disturbing dream, or anxiety related to a real or imagined future event are used to unlock the memory network.

After a target memory is found, associated physical sensations, emotions, negative self-beliefs, and the disturbance level of the memory are identified; then bilateral stimulation begins using either eye movements, tactile stimulation (hand-held vibrating device) and/or audio bilateral stimulation.

As the client focuses on the memory, other thoughts, images, memories, and/or feelings usually arise and are in turn focused on. As the bilateral stimulation is administered the Adaptive Information Processing system does its healing work.

Towards the end of the session, the client is asked to evaluate the current level of the memory’s disturbance. This evaluation guides the need for further processing and further sessions. The EMDR session ends with a debriefing and time to transition.

For a more detailed description of the eight phases of the EMDR process click here.

“Window to an EMDR Session” – Colleen West, MFT EMDR Certified Therapist

What kinds of problems can it be used to treat?

It is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of:

  • combat trauma
  • childhood abuse or neglect
  • loss
  • accidents
  • medical events
  • sexual assault
  • natural disasters

It is also been used to treat a number of mental disorders including those related to:

  • addiction
  • sleep
  • anxiety
  • depression

EMDR can help process traumas related to life events such as a parents’ divorce, being bullied, failing at school, experiencing a friend’s betrayal, going through a break-up.

Whether a memory relates to a traumatic event or a life event, affect laden memories contribute to dysfunctional patterns in our lives and may be at the root of disturbing behaviors or powerful emotions triggered by seemingly innocuous events.

“Introduction to EMDR Therapy with Marie Lachney”

Who can use it – adults, children, teens?

EMDR is an appropriate treatment for people of all ages. I have used it successfully with children age seven and adults in their 70’s. I have also used it with developmentally disabled clients, a population that experiences more trauma than is generally recognized.

What kind of research supports its effectiveness?

EMDR is the most researched psychotherapeutic treatment for PTSD. Numerous studies have found it to be an effective method for treating trauma––treatment effects are maintained over time and fewer sessions are needed to elicit results than for example Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Exposure Therapy.

EMDR is recommended as an effective treatment for trauma by:

  • American Psychiatric Association
  • Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense
  • California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
  • United Kingdom Department of Health
  • Dutch National Steering Committee Guidelines Mental Health Care

For more on the research behind EMDR visit the Francine Shapiro Library.

What kind of training does a therapist need to be certified?

An EMDR trained therapist has completed the EMDRIA approved training consisting of Level I and Level II training plus 10 hours of consultation.

To become a certified EMDR therapist, you must have completed EMDRIA training, received an additional 20 hours of consultation with an EMDRIA approved consultant, and done a minimum of 50 EMDR sessions with no less than 25 clients.

You can find out more about EMDR certification from the international association EMDRIA.

How many sessions?

How many sessions depends on the nature of the trauma and the scope of the work to be done.

Where can I learn more?

I recommend a popular book written by Francine Shapiro– EMDR: The Breakthrough “Eye Movement” Therapy for overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma. You can also visit my Resource page for more EMDR related links.

To find out if you might benefit from EMDR give me a call (707) 996-4416.