Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for trauma (EMDR)

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, known as EMDR, is an integrative psychotherapy approach guided by the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model. It was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987, who discovered that this natural healing and coping process could successfully treat persons diagnosed with PTSD.

Since then, the professional organization EMDRIA was organized to maintain standards of practice for licensed clinicians and has found EMDR to be an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health problems. An additional resource for clinicians, The Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, is a peer-reviewed publication that is designed to educate EMDRIA members how to integrate and apply EMDR to diverse populations.


EMDR What to Expect


During the EMDR sessions, eye movements similar to those in REM sleep are utilized to recreate the stored memory by asking the patient to respond to external stimuli such as a swinging pendulum, listening to headphones, holding tappers, or by tapping as the eye moves back and forth.

After short sets of eye movements, the therapist will ask the client to report back on “what do you notice” during each set of eye movements, and will be prompted to “go with that.”
This facilitates a release of the emotions attached to memories from the past. The pendulum motion, or shifting back and forth, between the calm and disturbed states, helps bring the Mindbody back into a natural state of balance.

Eye movements lead to a weakening or desensitizing of the original memory and the chain of associations that stimulates the modification of meanings.
It is found that with repeated sets of eye movements, other associated memories can be healed at the same time. This linking of events in the neural network has been reported by clients to lead to dramatic insight and healing in many aspects of life.

Experiences during an EMDR session may update or release a previous memory, can change the original memories for the better, or find new meanings and feelings about what happened. EMDR therapy seems to release the intensely painful emotions and helps store it differently so the memory becomes a neutral event that occurred in the past.

The assessment process to determine the appropriateness for the EMDR session may take several psychotherapy appointments. In such cases where EMDR is not deemed appropriate, other approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or other somatic (body-based) interventions may be used.

If you are suffering from a trauma, addiction, or other difficult life experiences, you may be a candidate for EMDR.

EMDR What to Expect

Questions about EMDR

What is the AIP Model approach to EMDR?

Most of the time the Brainbody automatically self-regulates, responding to new experiences and events without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs that is shocking, happens repeatedly, or a series of overwhelming stress or events occurs at the same time, this brain overload can result in a sense of feeling helpless, intense anxiety, and intense mood disturbance. The person can’t sleep, think clearly, or know who to ask for help. Examples of such incidents include: death, car accident, chronic health issues, childhood neglect, rape, sexual abuse, loss of a job, domestic violence, bullying, or relationship betrayal to name a few.

These “forgotten” stored memories, when activated by or triggered by some recent event deep in the memory center of the brain, are often accompanied by intense emotions and behaviors such as anxiety, panic, rage, shame, substance abuse, depression, regret, or despair. According to the Adaptive Information Processing Model (AIP-developed by EMDR founder Dr. Francine Shapiro) the intense reactions or emotions in the present may be linked to events from the past or anticipations about the future.

Neuroscience research has shown that the brain can unlock frozen memories, which can block the ability to separate what has happened then from what is happening now. The past or anticipated future is somehow present.

Can the EMDR technique be used to treat addiction?

Yes! Until recently, it was believed that addiction treatment should begin before trauma treatment, requiring the patient to reach abstinence first before exploring the pain from the past. However, today, experts suggest a more integrated, inclusive approach to include trauma in addiction treatment.

While PTSD and addiction treatment can be challenging, it is practical and appropriate to treat them both simultaneously. Until the trauma is addressed, the substance abuse will continue. It is recognized that trauma is one of the possible routes leading to addiction, and every substance abuse behavior has developed a life of its own— with its own memory network. A memory network is thought to be composed of addiction-related memories and behaviors that relate to substance use.

Addiction becomes the way the client uses as a way to avoid, cope, or deal with negative emotions, and experiences, or just to feel something. Working on these painful memories may help to avoid using substances as coping for the addictive person. The 12-step program and other group support can be helpful.