Eliminate Emotional Distress and Develop New Insights with EMDR

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What Is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.

EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes.

EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain's information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can causes intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

What Does EMDR Treat?

  • PTSD (Chemtob, Tolin, van der Kolk, & Pitman, 2000)
  • Phobias (De Jongh, Ten Broeke, and Renssen 1999)
  • Panic Disorders (Feske & Goldstein, 1997; Goldstein & Feske, 1994)
  • Dissociative Disorders (e.g, Fine & Berkowitz, 2001; Lazrove & Fine, 1996; Paulsen, 1995)
  • Performance Anxiety (Foster & Lendl, 1996; Maxfield & Melnyk, 2000)
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Brown et al., 1997)
  • Pain Disorder (Grant & Threlfo, 2002)
  • Personality Disorders (e.g., Korn & Leeds, 2002; Manfield, 1998)
  • Depression (Shapiro, 2002)
  • Attachment Disorder (Siegel, 2002)
  • Social Phobia (Smyth, & Poole, 2002)
  • Anger Dyscontrol (Young, Zangwill, & Behary , 2002)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Lazarus, & Lazarus , 2002)
  • Distress Related to Infertility (Bohart & Greenberg, 2002)
  • Body Image Disturbance (Brown, 2002)
  • Marital Discord (Kaslow, Nurse, & Thompson, 2002)
  • Eating Disorders (Darker-Smith, S. (2007, June); Schulherr, S. (2003, September)
  • Existential Angst (Krystal, Prendergast, Krystal, Fenner, Shapiro, Shapiro, 2002)
  • Pornography (Popky, A.J. (2005)-Urge Reduction Protocol)
  • Physical / Sexual Abuse (321. Manfield, P. 1998); Friberg, M. (2004, June)
  • Anxiety Disorders (Finley, P. (2002), Ricci, R.J. (2004), Ward, T., & Moreton, G. (2008)
  • Trauma from Violence
  • Addictions Combined with PTSD (Abel, N.J., & O’Brien, J.M. (2010)
  • Insomnia (Marcus, S.V., Mauquis, P. Sakai, C.. Psychotherapy vol34/Fall1997/Number 3)

  • How Many Sessions Will It Take?

  • Usually processing begins by the third session. The number of sessions depends upon the specific problem and client history. However, repeated controlled studies have shown that a single trauma can be processed within 3 sessions in 80-90% of the participants. While every disturbing event need not be processed, the amount of therapy will depend upon the complexity of the history.

  • How Does EMDR Work?

When a traumatic or very negative event occurs, information processing in the brain tends to be incomplete – due in part to strong negative feelings or dissociation that interferes with the brain’s ability to attend, process and store the sensory input of the event. This leaves the brain unable to establish the normal neural connections with sensory and emotional information stored in other memory networks. For example, a woman who has been raped may “know” that rapists are responsible for their crimes, but this information does not properly connect with her (incorrect) feeling that she was to blame for the attack.

These memories are dysfunctionally stored without appropriate associative connections and with many elements still unprocessed. When the individual thinks about the trauma, or when the memory is triggered by similar situations, the person may feel like she is reliving it, or may experience strong emotions and physical sensations. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

EMDR has a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. The EMDR protocol causes normal information processing to be resumed, so a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. The traumatic memory still remains, but it is less upsetting.

During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the eyes rapidly move back and forth as the brain processes and organizes sensory information. The eye movement protocol of EMDR uses this same course of action to re-process and re-organize dysfunctional or disorganized information caused by a traumatic event.


EMDR Is NOT Hypnotherapy.

There are some distinctive differences between hypnosis and EMDR. First, one of the major uses of hypnosis among clinical practitioners is to deliberately begin by inducing in the patient an altered state of mental relaxation. In contrast, when beginning EMDR mental relaxation is not typically attempted. In fact, deliberate attempts are often actually made to connect with an anxious (i.e. an emotionally disturbing as opposed to relaxed) mental state.

Second, therapists often use hypnosis to help a patient develop a single, highly focused state of aroused receptivity (Spiegel & Spiegel, 1978). In contrast, with EMDR attempts are made to maintain a duality of focus on both positive and negative currently held self-referencing beliefs, as well as the emotional arousal brought about by imaging the worst part of a disturbing memory.

Third, one of the proposed effects of hypnotizing a person is that they will have a decrease in their generalized reality orientation (GRO: Shor, 1979). In contrast, in EMDR, attempts are made towards repeatedly grounding the patient by referencing current feelings and body sensations to prevent the patient from drifting away from reality. Specific encouragement/inducement is made towards rejecting previously irrational/self-blaming beliefs in favor of a newly, reframed positive belief with an increase in subjective conviction about that belief.

EMDR Is NOT Exposure Therapy.

During exposure therapy clients generally experience long periods of high anxiety (Foa & McNally, 1996), while EMDR clients generally experience rapid reductions in SUD levels early in the session (Rogers et al., 1999). This difference suggests the possibility that EMDR’s use of repeated short focused attention may invoke a different mechanism of action that that of exposure therapy with its continual long exposure.

EMDR Is NOT A Placebo Treatment

A number of studies have found EMDR superior in outcome to placebo treatments, and to treatments not specifically validated for PTSD. EMDR has outperformed active listening (Scheck et al., 1998), standard outpatient care consisting of individual cognitive, psychodynamic, or behavioural therapy in a Kaiser Permanente Hospital (Marcus et al., 1997), relaxation training with biofeedback (Carlson et al., 1998). EMDR has been found to be relatively equivalent to CBT therapies in seven randomized clinical trials that compared the two approaches. Because the treatment effects are large and clinically meaningful, it can be concluded that EMDR is not a placebo treatment.

Will I Relive The Trauma As Intensely As Before?

Many people are conscious of only a shadow of the experience, while others feel it to a greater degree. Unlike some other therapies, EMDR clients are not asked to relive the trauma intensely and for prolonged periods of time. In EMDR, when there is a high level of intensity it only lasts for a few moments and then decreases rapidly. If it does not decrease rapidly on its own, the clinician has been trained in techniques to assist it to dissipate. The client has also been trained in techniques to immediately relieve the distress.

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