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Trauma Focused

Curious About EMDR? Discover How This Therapy Technique Addresses Trauma

Trauma is a deeply ingrained aspect of the human experience, impacting individuals across diverse backgrounds and circumstances. Coping with trauma is a complex journey, and for those seeking effective therapeutic interventions, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has emerged as a promising technique. 

In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of EMDR, exploring its origins, underlying principles, and the ways it addresses trauma.

Understanding EMDR:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, commonly known as EMDR, was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. Shapiro stumbled upon the therapeutic potential of eye movements when she noticed that certain thoughts become less emotionally charged as her eyes moved rapidly back and forth. This observation led to the development of EMDR, a structured eight-phase approach designed to help individuals process distressing memories.

The Core Principles of EMDR

Adaptive Information Processing (AIP):

  • Central to EMDR is the concept of Adaptive Information Processing, which posits that the human brain has an inherent capacity for self-healing. Traumatic experiences may overwhelm the brain’s natural coping mechanisms, leading to the persistence of distressing memories. 


Eight-Phase Approach:

EMDR follows an eight-phase protocol designed to guide individuals through the healing process. These phases include:

  1. History-Taking and Treatment Planning: The therapist gathers information about the client’s history, identifying specific traumatic memories or incidents.
  2. Preparation: The therapist introduces the EMDR process and establishes trust and rapport with the client. Coping mechanisms and stress reduction techniques are taught to ensure the client is adequately prepared for the upcoming processing.
  3. Assessment: The therapist works with the client to identify negative beliefs associated with the targeted memories. Positive and adaptive beliefs are also identified to replace the negative ones.
  4. Desensitization: This phase involves the use of bilateral stimulation to help the client process and reframe traumatic memories. Eye movements, hand-tapping, or auditory stimuli are employed to facilitate the desensitization process.
  5. Installation: Positive beliefs identified earlier are reinforced and “installed” through further bilateral stimulation. The client begins to associate positive beliefs with the previously distressing memories.
  6. Body Scan: The therapist and client explore the body’s physical sensations to ensure that residual tension or discomfort is fully addressed. This phase helps in identifying and resolving any lingering physical manifestations of trauma.
  7. Closure: The therapist ensures that the client is emotionally stable before concluding each session. Coping strategies are reinforced to help the client manage any emerging distress between sessions.
  8. Reevaluation: The effectiveness of EMDR is continually assessed, and adjustments are made as needed. Additional memories or issues may be targeted for reprocessing as the therapy progresses.

EMDR in Action

  • Targeting Traumatic Memories

EMDR primarily focuses on specific traumatic memories that contribute to an individual’s emotional distress. These memories are targeted one at a time, allowing for systematic processing and desensitization. By addressing individual memories, EMDR aims to alleviate the overall emotional burden associated with past traumatic experiences.

  • Desensitization and Reprocessing

The “Desensitization” phase involves exposing the individual to the targeted memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. This process aims to reduce the emotional charge associated with the memory, enabling the individual to view it more objectively. Following desensitization, the “Reprocessing” phase involves integrating the memory into a more adaptive and less distressing narrative.

  • Installation of Positive Beliefs

EMDR doesn’t only focus on neutralizing negative memories but also involves the installation of positive beliefs. This step ensures that the individual not only copes with the traumatic experience but also develops a more resilient and positive self-perception.


Effectiveness of EMDR

Numerous studies have supported the efficacy of EMDR in treating trauma-related conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Research suggests that EMDR can lead to significant improvements in symptom severity and overall well-being. Its success can be attributed to its ability to directly target the root cause of distressing symptoms – unresolved traumatic memories.

Critics, however, argue that the exact mechanism of action behind EMDR remains unclear. While bilateral stimulation is believed to play a role in the therapeutic process, the specific way in which it contributes to reprocessing traumatic memories is still a subject of debate within the psychological community.

EMDR Beyond Trauma

While EMDR gained prominence for its effectiveness in treating trauma, its applications have expanded to address a range of psychological issues. Therapists now use EMDR to help individuals overcome phobias, manage anxiety and depression, and improve overall emotional well-being. The adaptability of EMDR speaks to its versatility as a therapeutic tool.

The Experience of EMDR

  • Client’s Perspective: Individuals undergoing EMDR often describe the experience as intense yet transformative. The targeted exploration of traumatic memories can initially evoke heightened emotions, but the gradual desensitization process helps individuals distance themselves from the emotional intensity associated with these memories.
  • Therapist’s Role: Trained EMDR therapists play a pivotal role in guiding clients through the process. Their expertise involves skillful navigation of the eight-phase protocol, ensuring a safe and supportive environment for clients to explore and process their traumatic memories.

Considerations for EMDR

  • Applicability: EMDR may not be suitable for everyone, and therapists carefully assess the appropriateness of this approach for each individual. Factors such as the nature and severity of trauma, as well as the individual’s overall mental health, are considered when determining if EMDR is a suitable intervention.
  • Integration with Other Therapies: EMDR is often integrated with other therapeutic approaches, creating a comprehensive treatment plan. Combining EMDR with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, or psychodynamic approaches can enhance the overall therapeutic benefits.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has emerged as a valuable therapeutic tool in addressing trauma and its associated symptoms. Its unique approach, rooted in Adaptive Information Processing, bilateral stimulation, and an eight-phase protocol, distinguishes EMDR from traditional therapeutic methods. 

While ongoing research aims to unravel the exact mechanisms at play, the positive outcomes reported by individuals undergoing EMDR highlight its potential as a transformative and effective intervention.

For those curious about EMDR, exploring this therapy may open doors to healing and recovery. As the therapeutic landscape continues to evolve, EMDR stands as a testament to the innovative approaches that offer hope and relief to those grappling with the lasting impact of trauma.