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EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. Life is full of upsets also known as traumas: big T Trauma and little t trauma. Big T traumas might be abuse, car accident, overdose, witnessed or experienced violence, etc. Little t traumas are the things that happen in our daily lives that over time take a toll. Little t traumas could include continuous negative interaction with a family member, learning differences in school that lead to the discipline problems or being singled out, messing up at work, etc. Both big T and little t traumas teach us absolute truths about ourselves that in turn shape who we are and how we operate in daily life. When there is significant over emotional stimulation or under stimulation those negative thoughts, feelings, and body sensations get stuck in our daily working memory because we are unable to process them. One moment becomes "frozen in time," and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time. Later on, when we encounter a similar situation (conversations with parents, perceived disrespect, etc.) our body recognizes those feelings, thoughts, and sensations and causes us to over react to the current situation. 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.

The part of the brain that is activated during EMDR is the same part of the brain that is activated during REM sleep. It is during REM sleep each night that our brains recuperate and heal from daily activities. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (alternating activating the left and right sides of the brain through side-to-side eye movement or buzzers in your hands) to activate those parts of your brain. EMDR is designed to aid in processing traumas and allow the client to develop new behavior patterns when faced with similar past situations. The goal of EMDR is not to merely not react when emotionally triggered but for the interaction to no longer even register and in turn feel the need to prove or convince the other person of their wrong doing. Following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting (EMDRIA, 2018).

Does EMDR really work?

Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety. The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. EMDR was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies. Research has also shown that EMDR can be an efficient and rapid treatment.


EMDRIA EMDR International Association., (2018)., EMDR therapy. Retrieved from:

Compassion Works., (2018)., Stress factors., Retrieved from:

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