Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing: A Comprehensive Guide

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, commonly known as EMDR, is a revolutionary psychotherapy technique widely recognized for its effectiveness in treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. This in-depth guide aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of EMDR, its effectiveness, and its role in online therapy.

Table of Contents

  1. What is EMDR?
  2. How Does EMDR Work?
  3. The Eight Phases of EMDR
  4. EMDR for PTSD and Other Disorders
  5. Effectiveness of EMDR
  6. What to Expect in an EMDR Session
  7. Online EMDR Therapy
  8. The Science Behind EMDR
  9. Benefits and Risks of EMDR
  10. How EMDR Differs from Other Therapies
  11. Choosing the Right EMDR Professional
  12. Conclusion

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a structured psychotherapy approach designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Developed in 1987, EMDR has since gained widespread recognition and acceptance as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other related conditions.

EMDR is rooted in the Adaptive Information Processing model, which posits that symptoms of PTSD and other disorders arise from unprocessed, distressing past experiences. These unprocessed memories are thought to contain the emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations experienced during the original event. When triggered, these elements can cause symptoms of PTSD and other disorders.

Unlike other therapies that focus on directly altering the emotions, thoughts, and responses resulting from traumatic experiences, EMDR aims to change the way the memory is stored in the brain, thereby reducing or eliminating the problematic symptoms.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR works by having patients focus briefly on their trauma memory in a safe nonjudgmental space while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation, typically through eye movements. This process is thought to reduce the vividness and emotional intensity of the trauma memory.

During EMDR therapy, the patient focuses on the trauma memory while also experiencing bilateral stimulation. This simultaneous focus and stimulation are believed to stimulate an accelerated learning process, leading to a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the memory.

The 8 Phases of EMDR

EMDR therapy follows a structured eight-phase approach:

  1. History Taking: The Psychiatric NP gathers a comprehensive history and identifies targets for treatment. These targets can include traumas, current triggers, and future goals.
  2. Preparation: The therapist explains the treatment procedure and introduces the client to the bilateral stimulation technique. The therapist also ensures the client has adequate resources for emotional management such as calm place imagery and breathing exercise they are taught.
  3. Assessment: The Psychiatric NP activates the specific target memory by identifying and assessing each memory component, including the image, cognition, affect, and body sensation.
  4. Desensitization: The client focuses on the memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation such as eye movements in which they follow the Psychiatric NP’s finger from side to side. It is theorized the bilateral stimulation reduces the memory’s distressing nature, allowing the client to process memories more gently.
  5. Installation: This phase explores and then strengthens the preferred positive cognition(s) the client desires to replace the negative cognitions the hold in response to the trauma. For example, instead of present day memory triggers causing the client to think negative thoughts about them self and blaming them self, they can adopt the opposite position and integrate such positive cognitions in relations to the traumatic memory.
  6. Body Scan: The client identifies any residual somatic distress related to the traumatic memories, which is processed using bilateral stimulation.
  7. Closure: Used to end the session, ensuring safety until the next session. Self-calming techniques like calm place and breathing exercises may be reintroduced in this phase.
  8. Re-evaluation: In the subsequent session, the Psychiatric NP evaluates the client’s state of mind and any improvements that were attained from the previous one. This is a good time to identify targets for the current session.

EMDR for PTSD and Other Disorders

Originally developed for treating PTSD, EMDR has been successfully applied to other disorders like anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), chronic pain, and addictions.

Effectiveness of EMDR

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR in treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. EMDR therapy has even proven superior to certain antidepressants in treating trauma. The therapy has helped more than 7 million people recover from trauma and PTSD symptoms.

What to Expect in an EMDR Session

During an EMDR session, the client is asked to focus on a distressing memory while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound. This process continues until the distress linked to the memory decreases. It is important to note that the client does not need to talk in detail about their trauma during sessions. This is a significant distinction from other trauma related psychotherapies.

Online EMDR Therapy

With the advent of digital technology, EMDR therapy can be effectively delivered online, providing easy access to treatment for those who might otherwise struggle to access it.

The Science Behind EMDR

While EMDR’s effectiveness is well-documented, there is still debate about its exact mechanism. Some research suggests the back-and-forth movement is crucial, while others argue against it.

Benefits and Risks of EMDR

The benefits of EMDR are numerous, including a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms. However, some clients might initially feel uncomfortable when focusing on trauma-related memories. The bilateral stimulation is thought to lessen the pain and anxiety of accessing these memories.

How EMDR Differs from Other Therapies

Unlike talk therapy, EMDR doesn’t require extensive discussion of the traumatic event or homework assignments between sessions such as with cognitive-behavioral. Instead, it focusses on changing the way traumatic memories are stored in the brain.

Choosing the Right EMDR Professional

Choosing the right EMDR professional is crucial for successful treatment. They should have experience in treating people with trauma and PTSD, and have the compassion and empathy required to provide a safe space to process past experiences. In addition, the ability to prescribe medications may also be of benefit when selecting a provider.


EMDR is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach for treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. Whether delivered face-to-face or online, EMDR offers a unique and structured approach to help individuals process traumatic memories and alleviate their distressing symptoms.

If you are interested in learning more about this valuable therapeutic tool and/or medication treatments for your mental health issues, please reach out for a free consultation with SimplyCalm: