EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a therapy technique that was originally developed to treat the effects of trauma, and is considered an evidence-based treatment. During EMDR, the client recalls a disturbing memory or thought while the therapist employs bilateral stimulation — a rhythmic, side-to-side pattern. The most common version involves eye movements, but it can also be done with alternating tones through a headset, or with gentle tapping on the legs. More information about EMDR’s process and mechanism of action can be found in the helpful video here.
Though the eye movements, particularly, remind some people of stage hypnotism or the sort seen in popular culture, EMDR and clinical hypnosis are different things.
EMDR is often associated with treating military veterans for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is one of three psychotherapy treatments the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses to treat PTSD, the others being Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure. Besides the VA, other organizations that recommend EMDR in the treatment of PTSD are the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization.
Not everyone experiences PTSD, but most people have gone through disturbing things in their lives. Something that may not affect one person very much can cause significant suffering for another. EMDR helps ease the lingering distress from these events, regardless of the label.
Though recalling disturbing memories can naturally create a certain amount of temporary discomfort, it is not dangerous when properly used by a trained and qualified therapist. In fact, just the opposite — people specifically seek out EMDR treatment because it can reduce their suffering and improve their lives.
Therapists practicing EMDR must have completed an appropriate graduate program; be licensed to practice by their state board; and have received specialized training in EMDR from a professionally accredited organization. My training was completed through the EMDR Institute. The Institute was founded by Francine Shapiro, PhD, who originated and developed EMDR.
I’m always happy to discuss how EMDR might be useful for both current and future clients. Please reach out if you’d like to schedule some time to chat.