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Is EMDR Therapy Right for You?

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

EMDR Therapy Session

Introduction to EMDR Therapy: Is It the Right Choice for You?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a distinctive psychotherapy approach known for treating trauma and a variety of psychological stress. But, is it the right choice for your particular needs? This blog post aims to unpack what EMDR is, explore how it works, and evaluate its effectiveness to help you determine if it could be a beneficial addition to your mental health treatment plan.

What is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing?

Understanding EMDR Therapy

EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. It is designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. This type of therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences to bring these to an adaptive resolution.

EMDR’s Therapeutic Theoretical Framework

This approach to therapy is based on the premise that past emotionally charged experiences can cause maladaptive neural networks that lead to psychological issues. The therapy uses a structured eight-phase approach that includes patient history, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation. During these phases, bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movements, is used to activate these networks and aid in the processing of information.

How EMDR Differs from Other Therapies

Unlike traditional talk therapy, this type of therapy does not rely solely on conversations or medications. Instead, it focuses on the rapid and rhythmic eye movements guided by a therapist. These eye movements are believed to mimic the period of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is crucial for consolidating learning and memories.

How Does EMDR Work?

Overview of the Therapeutic Process

The EMDR therapy process typically unfolds over several sessions and is segmented into eight distinct phases. It starts with the therapist assessing the client’s history to identify specific traumatic memories to target. Each session aims to process these memories in parts, with the goal of reducing distress and reformulating negative beliefs.

Phase 1: History and Treatment Planning

During the initial phase, the therapist gathers information about the client’s history to understand the nature of their difficulties. This phase helps to map out the treatment targets, which include past memories, current disturbances, and future actions that require different responses.

Phase 2: Preparation

The therapist introduces the client to the process, explaining the techniques and tools that will be used, such as eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. This phase also focuses on establishing trust and explaining the theory behind EMDR to set the client at ease.

Phase 3: Assessment

In this phase, the therapist identifies the vivid visual image related to the memory, a negative belief about the self, related emotions, and body sensations. The therapist also determines a positive belief that the client would like to have. The validity of this belief is rated, as are the emotions and sensations associated with the negative and positive beliefs.

This structured approach is designed to help the client gain insights and resolve emotional distress linked to traumatic memories through the activation of neurological and emotional processes.

What Conditions Does EMDR Treat?

EMDR for Trauma and PTSD

This therapeutic approach is particularly well-known for its effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By directly affecting the way the brain processes information, it can help those who have experienced severe trauma reprocess the memory in a way that it no longer elicits powerful, distressing reactions.

Beyond PTSD: Other Applications

Aside from PTSD, EMDR has been successfully applied to treat a variety of conditions including anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and stress-induced symptoms. The adaptability of EMDR in treating a range of emotional and psychological issues showcases its versatility as a therapeutic tool.

EMDR for Children and Adolescents

EMDR is also effective for younger populations dealing with early traumas or losses. Therapists adjust the protocols to be more suitable for children, using language and methods that resonate with their developmental stage and emotional capacity.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of EMDR

Clinical Evidence Supporting EMDR

Research and clinical studies have provided substantial evidence supporting the effectiveness of this modality in treating trauma and other psychiatric disorders. These studies often highlight the reduction in symptoms and the improvement in quality of life post-EMDR therapy.

Comparisons with Other Therapies

Studies comparing EMDR to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication have shown that EMDR can often achieve similar or superior results, especially in the treatment of PTSD. Importantly, EMDR therapy can produce these results in a shorter timeframe and with fewer therapy sessions.

Ongoing Research and Developments

The field of EMDR continues to evolve, with ongoing research exploring new applications and refining techniques to enhance its efficacy. This ongoing development helps ensure that EMDR remains a cutting-edge therapy aligned with the latest in psychological research and practice.

Who Should Consider EMDR Therapy?

Criteria for Potential Candidates

EMDR therapy is suitable for individuals of all ages who are experiencing distress related to traumatic events or life stressors. Ideal candidates are those who have a clear understanding of their issues and are motivated to engage actively in their treatment process. It’s particularly recommended for individuals who have not found relief through traditional therapy or medication.

Assessing Your Readiness

Before starting EMDR, it’s important to assess your emotional and psychological readiness. The work in this approach to therapy can be intense, requiring a strong commitment to the therapeutic process. Individuals should be stable enough to handle the emotional responses that might arise during sessions.

Choosing the Right EMDR Therapist

Finding a Qualified Therapist

To benefit the most from EMDR therapy, it’s crucial to find a therapist who is formally trained and certified in EMDR. Certification ensures that the therapist has the required training and experience to guide you safely through the EMDR process.

What to Look for in an EMDR Therapist

Look for therapists who communicate openly, have a good track record, and whom you feel comfortable with. It’s also beneficial if they have experience dealing with your specific issues. Ensure they adhere to the EMDR International Association guidelines and ethics.

Common Misconceptions About EMDR

Clearing Up Myths

One common misconception about this modality is that it involves hypnosis. EMDR is not hypnosis; it is an interactive psychotherapy technique that requires the individual to remain awake and aware throughout the session. Another myth is that EMDR can erase memories. It does not erase memories but rather changes the emotional response associated with them.


How long do sessions last?

Typically, these therapy sessions last between 60 to 90 minutes. The number of sessions required can vary based on the individual’s needs and the complexity of their issues.

Is EMDR painful?

EMDR is not typically painful, but it can be emotionally challenging. Individuals may experience intense emotions during sessions but these are part of the healing process.

Can children undergo EMDR therapy?

Yes, EMDR is adaptable for children and can be effective in treating trauma at a young age. Therapists adjust the approach to suit the child’s developmental level.


EMDR therapy offers a proven, effective method for dealing with various psychological traumas and other conditions. If you’re considering whether this type of therapy is right for you, it’s important to evaluate your own health needs and readiness, and to choose a qualified therapist.

For those looking to explore EMDR therapy or find qualified therapists, WithTherapy.com is an excellent resource. Begin your journey toward healing by connecting with a professional who meets your individual needs today.

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