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What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective way for people to work through and heal from past trauma and memories, and the emotional distress, core beliefs, and relational patterns that come from the traumatic experiences.


There are 8 phases to EMDR: history taking, client preparation, assessment, desensitization (what most people think of when they hear EMDR: this is the eye movements and reprocessing stage), installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation of treatment effect. For now, it isn’t necessarily important to know what each of these phases, but I thought it was important to highlight that the actual reprocessing and desensitization does not happen until after history taking, client preparation, and assessment. Most people get excited to dive into EMDR reprocessing after hearing how effective it is – and rightly so! – but preparing for EMDR is equally as important.


EMDR can be intense, and it is important for you to be prepared for what is going to happen during a session and what could happen in between sessions. Preparation includes building a therapeutic relationship and safety, learning skills and building on resources to help manage any temporary emotional discomfort during or between sessions, and discussing what memories you would like to work with to build a treatment plan. Each of these things allows you to feel safe, ready, and prepared to do the work well. While it can take some time, preparing on the front end will set you up for success and healing through EMDR.


Usually, EMDR is done with following the therapist’s fingers left to right, a lightbar moving left to right, buzzers the vibrate in one hand and then the other, or with alternating taps on shoulders or knees, whichever is most comfortable for the client. The bilateral movements stimulate the brain similar to how our brain is activated during REM sleep. During REM sleep, your eyes move side to side, and you process through the days events, store memories, and have dreams. Although you are completely awake and conscious during EMDR reprocessing, your brain is able to take the traumatic memories and store them where they should’ve been stored originally.


When we go through something traumatic or overwhelming, our brain isn’t able to store memories or function as it typically would because it is in survival mode. I like to think of it as file folders being thrown everywhere during the trauma, and then EMDR helps us go back through the memories and file them away. We still have all the memories, they are just stored, so there is no more chaos and little to no emotional reaction to the memories.


Interested in EMDR or have questions? Reach out to us and talk to one of our therapists to see if EMDR would be a good fit for you!


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