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What is EMDR?

EMDR is a psychotherapeutic technique developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in the late 1980s to help clients process traumatic events or experiences.  Its initial application was with individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but its application has since broadened to include other emotional and behavioral concerns.

A basic tenet of EMDR is that the mind/body has a natural instinct to heal itself.  Just as the body heals a wound, the brain processes traumatic experiences and stores them in such a way that we are no longer bothered by the trauma.  If a wound is not cleaned and bandaged properly, it will become infected and require further treatment.  If a trauma is not processed effectively, it will continue to plague us in the form of post-traumatic stress.

How does EMDR work?

No one really knows how or why EMDR works.  The theory is that traumas that are unprocessed get "locked" into the nervous system and continue to cause distress.  There traumas are locked in with all the pictures, emotions, sounds, thoughts, and reactions that were associated with the original event.  By bringing up the traumatic memory, along with all the associations to it, and adding eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation (tactile and/or auditory), the mind and body can process the trauma.  It is speculated that EMDR is similar to REM, or dream sleep, in which the eyes move rapidly back and forth as the brain processes the day's information and stores it into memory.

What is the procedure for EMDR?

If you have contacted a therapist specifically for EMDR, you will first need to meet with him or her a few times before actually doing EMDR.  During these sessions, the therapist will take a case history to assess whether or not you are a good candidate for EMDR.  If there are no contraindications to doing EMDR, the next step involves identifying tools that you can use to self-soothe between sessions as EMDR can bring up intense emotion.  These tools may include techniques such as guided imagery and meditation.  In additions, the therapist will help you to identify others images for self-soothing that will be paired with bilateral stimulation.

During the actual EMDR session, you will be asked to bring up a memory that you want to work on, including the emotions, body sensations, and thoughts that are associated with the memory.  Once the memory is "activated", the therapist will begin the bilateral stimulation.  You are to let your mind go wherever it goes, without censoring or judging yourself.  The therapist will stop the bilateral stimulation and ask you what is happening.  You will simply report what your mind is doing and then you will continue as the therapist resumes bilateral stimulation.  This processing will continue until you feel you have reached a resolution, which may occur in one session, or may take several to many sessions of EMDR, depending on the nature of the trauma.

Where can I find out more about EMDR and find a an EMDR therapist?

Many therapists may say they do EMDR, so it is up to the consumer to make sure that the therapist is trained or certified in EMDR.  You should ask the therapist when and what kind of training and experience he or she has had.  The therapist, at a minimum, should have completed a three-part training program that is approved by EMDRIA (EMDR International Association).  The minimum training for therapists is 60 hours, plus 10 hours of case consultation.  In addition, EMDRIA provides certification for therapists, which requires 20 hours of case consultation, and at least 50 hours of EMDR with clients.

The best way to find an EMDR therapist is to go to the EMDRIA website.  No therapist can be a member of EMDRIA or be listed in their directory unless he or she has completed basic training.

You may go to the following resources to read more about EMDR and/or find an EMDR therapist:

  • EMDR Institute:

  • EMDR Interational Association:

  • Santa Clara County Psychological Association: ​