What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), as with most therapy approaches, focuses on the individual’s present concerns. EMDR’s approach, however, considers past experiences are being activated by present or future anticipated experiences.

What is different about EMDR?
  1. EMDR’s focus is on the brain’s ability to constantly learn, taking past experiences and updating them with the present situation.
    • This is referred to as “The Adaptive Information Processing Hypothesis.”
    • Adaptive learning is constantly updating memory network systems (reconsolidation).
  2. EMDR’s focus is the person’s inability to update experiences.
  3. EMDR therapy uses a set of procedures to organize these negative and positive networks and then uses bilateral stimulation, i.e., eye movements, alternative tapping, etc. as the catalyst to effectively integrate the past experiences with the present adaptive learning. Much like eating, we digest food, keeping the nutrients necessary of health, letting go of the waste, we keep what is necessary for adaptive learning. And let go of unnecessary information..
When was EMDR developed?
  1. EMDR was a Ph.D. dissertation treating PTSD, written by Francine Shapiro that was published in 1989.
  2. After publishing her findings, numerous clinicians treating clients with PTSD sought training in the procedures outlined.
  3. Shapiro began teaching others her procedures, and over the course of time, 1990-1995, she refined and expanded her procedures.
    • EMDR became an official treatment approach in 1995 when she published her training manual: EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Protocol and Procedures.
How was EMDR developed?
  1. Shapiro, as part of her Ph.D. program and other environments, had knowledge of the use of eye positioning and movements related to a person accessing various components of memory.
  2. Shapiro combined various forms of psychotherapy into a structured set of procedures then applied rapid eye movements as a way to process the client’s disturbing memories.
    • Shapiro speculated that rapid eye movements would replicate the processing that occurs during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep.
    • Shapiro viewed the rapid eye movements as activating the client’s Adaptive Information Processing system, thereby allowing the negative memory networks to be updated to present, known adaptive responses and beliefs.
What does EMDR look like in treatment?
  1. Overall Treatment Planning
    • Clients come to treatment expressing concerns.
    • The clinician will help the client understand the dynamics of the present concerns and how to adaptively manage them.
    • An overall treatment plan will be developed that will accomplish the client goals.
    • Within that treatment plan, EMDR therapy, along with other therapy approaches, will be used to accomplish treatment goals.
  2. EMDR Procedures
    • The client will be instructed, through a set of questions, to access and activate the negative experience and the desired adaptive resolution.
    • Sets of rapid eye movement (or other forms of bilateral stimulation) will be applied.
    • The client is encouraged to just “free associate” and allow the brain to work through the experience.
    • Sets of eye movements will be alternated with brief client reports of what is being experienced.
    • EMDR processing will continue until the past experience has been updated to an adaptive present perspective.
      • With long standing issues, this process may take multiple sessions.
  3. Integration
    • Once the disturbing experiences have been processed, the client and clinician work together to integrate these new insights and perspectives into their daily life.
Is it necessary to tell the clinician all the details of an experience in order for it to be processed?

No, full disclosure of the experience is not necessary for the experience to be processed.

Will emotions and sensations be experienced?

Yes – emotions and sensations may come up during processing, although the client will be prepared and safely managed by the clinician during processing.

Is EMDR like hypnosis?

No, during EMDR processing, the client is present and fully in control of the experience.

Is EMDR a brief treatment?

EMDR therapy , as with all treatment approaches, will help clients accomplish their treatment goals.

  • The length of time that it takes is dependent upon the client’s complexity. 
  • Frequently EMDR therapy is only one of several treatment interventions used to accomplish the client’s treatment goals.

One of the first things we ask clients is what is the level of distress you are experiencing.  1-10, 10 being the most distress.  Look at this graph below to help you determine the level of distress that something is bothering you. 

Level of Distress Scale SUD 0-10

Here is what happens before EMDR:

Before EMDR Reprocessing

Designed by Ayan Mukherjee

EMDR Processing:

EMDR Reprocessing Phase

How Memory Processing May Work





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