What Really is EMDR?  (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Have you been in talk therapy before? Maybe in your time with talk therapy you have found that in the logical part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, you understand your negative thought process is incorrect but when you think about it emotionally, the hippocampus and amygdala, it still brings up distressing memories for you.  Things can feel so stuck! This can become extremely frustrating for clients. I have seen this process in my clients and the frustration is all over the room.  EMDR recruits different parts of your brain and body to work together in order to alleviate the distressing, memory, thought, or dream. Magic you ask, not quite.

How Does EMDR Work?

This type of therapy has been known to reduce distressing symptoms in fewer sessions than traditional talk therapy. EMDR incorporates bi-lateral stimulation to help connect different parts of a person’s brain and the body to alleviate the distressing thought, memory, or dream.  Bi-lateral stimulation is when a therapist does something side to side to create the stimulation for clients. This may include a client tracing a therapist’s finger with their eyes, holding pulsars in their hands, listening to tones in one ear and then the other, or tapping side to side on the body.

Creating the bi-lateral stimulation allows the blocked thought or memory in the brain to go away and to provide increased healing on its own.  Our brain strives to heal itself, similar to how our body strives to heal itself when we have a wound. For example, if something is stuck in our skin, we must remove it in order to allow the natural healing process to work.  This is the same concept for EMDR, we must support our brain in getting unstuck or unblocked to allow the natural healing process to move forward.  You might be wondering “but will this remove the memory as a whole?” No! EMDR will change the way you view the memory and think about it.  It will remove the yuck associated to the memory.

Example Situation:

Maybe there is a person who has been in a traumatic car accident and they know logically that every time they enter a car they will not be in another accident. Logically they have been in the car hundreds or thousands of times and nothing has happened, but that one time has gotten stuck in their mind and now they can’t let it go.  They are experiencing sympathetic nervous system symptoms (fight, flight, or freeze response) and this has become a trigger for them. EMDR resolves this disconnect for the person. It would connect the knowledge they have about getting in a car with the emotional response so that they no longer are experiencing a negative emotional response when entering the car. Make sense? Feel free to comment if you have any questions!

What Does the Process of EMDR Look Like?

EMDR incorporates an 8-phase protocol to be done with a trained professional (Not just anyone can do EMDR).  The 8 phases include information gathering, resourcing, going through the actual protocol, and being future orientated to prevent distress in the future.  Your therapist may take time to fully ensure you are ready for EMDR and sometimes recommend another modality that could be a better fit depending on a person’s needs.

Who can benefit from EMDR?

EMDR was first used for people who have experienced trauma and has now been found to support a wide range of mental health issues people experience.  It can be used for:

  • trauma
  • addiction
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • chronic pain
  • grief
  • eating disorders
  • children
  • adolescents
  • sleep disturbances
  • people who feel stuck in a thought process or memory

Is EDMR Effective?

Yes!  It is an evidenced based model that has been recognized by many organizations in the mental health community including the American Psychiatric Association, International Society for Traumatic Studies, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, World Health Organization, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Over 30 studies have been conducted on EMDR therapy and one of particular note was done by Kaiser Permanente. Researchers discovered that 100% of a single-time trauma survivors were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after six 50-minute sessions. And 77% of multiple trauma survivors no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after six 50-minute sessions. (Okay maybe it is magic).

To learn more about EMDR therapy and see if it is a right fit for you or someone you know, please feel welcome to reach out to call Sarah Richards, MA, Registered Psychotherapist 720-923-2326 or click on our “Request Appointment” to discuss further.

 Resources and Additional Information






If you could benefit from EMDR, please contact us at 303-353-9226
or edmonds@brightsidecounseling.net to schedule your initial assessment.