EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) is a type of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety and traumatic stress. Unlike most of its predecessors, EMDR is a non-talk therapy, in which clients do not have to go into details of traumatic events which often contribute to nightmares, triggers or flashbacks. The trauma treatment was developed in 1988 by Francine Shapiro and is now labeled by the APA as an evidence-based treatment for PTSD and trauma.
The brain has many parts, all of which play a different role in the way one processes the events of life.
The main players during a traumatic event involve the amygdala and the frontal lobe. EMDR’s primary focus is
on targeting and engaging these two parts for effective trauma treatment.
In a typical treatment session, a therapist will use finger movement, an EMDR light bar, toe-tapping or
musical tones to distract the client’s frontal lobe, or the area responsible for thinking, reasoning and
logic. At the same time, the therapist will ask the client to recall the disturbing event. This process
opens up the amygdala - the emotional center of the brain responsible for processing fight, flight or freeze
reactions - and allows the client to be in a safe place to work through their trauma. Throughout the
session, the therapist will gently guide the client to shift their thoughts to more pleasant ones.
A typical EMDR session has 8 phases, with phases 3-8 being the actual EMDR session in action.
Evaluation: Determining symptoms, diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Preparation: Teaching coping skills to help the patient stay grounded between sessions.
Assessment: The memory for processing is selected.
Desensitizing: The patient identifies the image related to the memory, the negative belief about self, related emotions and body sensations, and the positive belief they want to have in the now. The provider utilizes 0-10 scaling questions to determine the level of disturbance.
Installation: The target memory is linked with the positive belief.
Body scan: The patient scans through their body for any tension or tightness.
Closure: The session is complete and the patient is no longer experiencing painful memories or distressing emotions.
Re-evaluation: The next session is reevaluating where the patient is in regards to the last session.
Traditional talk therapy targets the frontal lobe, attempting to change how a person thinks about an event.
This can be helpful, but it is also important to target the amygdala, to give the brain space to file away
the traumatic event so it is no longer “free-floating.”
EMDR requires no written homework between sessions but is generally limited to the client practicing coping
skills in their normal day-to-day lives. EMDR has higher recovery rates and significantly less treatment
For those who have not found success in other therapies, EMDR trauma therapy can truly be
If you would like more information on EMDR trauma therapy at our residential treatment center, please contact our team. All calls are confidential.210-254-3618