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EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing

What is EMDR?

The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Therapist, Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilizing this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat not only PTSD, but also a wide range of mental health issues including anxiety and panic attacks, phobias, depression, grief and loss, chronic pain, feelings of worthlessness and long held negative beliefs.

What happens when you are traumatized?

Most of the time, your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming singular event (such as a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to ongoing abuse (such as sexual abuse or childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed". Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a "raw" and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as fear, panic, anxiety, anger, despair or disappointment are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural, effective and efficient way.

What is an EMDR session like?

EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment and development of a treatment plan, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist's finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. Sometimes, tapping is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings. With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.

How long does treatment take?

EMDR can be brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy treatment plan. EMDR can be easily integrated with other approaches such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. For best effects, EMDR sessions during the actual reprocessing phases of treatment usually last from 60 to 90 minutes. Clients report positive effects have been seen & felt after just one session of EMDR.

Will I remain in control?  How does it compare to hypnosis?

During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. EMDR is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.

Is EMDR backed by evidence?

EMDR is a clinical treatment which has successfully helped over a million individuals. The validity and reliability of EMDR has been established by rigorous research.  It the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma, and The American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Department of Defense, Veteran’s Administration, insurance companies, and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies recognize EMDR as an effective treatment for PTSD. For further information about EMDR:


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What is EMDR used for?

PTSD                                      Depression

Anxiety                                   Negative Beliefs

Panic Attacks                         Low self esteem

Phobias                                  Phobias

Substance Abuse                  Chronic Pain

Childhood Abuse                  Addictions

Sexual Abuse                         Traumas

 To read a first person account of EMDR and its effectiveness, please check out the Humans of New York series, "Invisible Wounds"   Qoute from one of the stories regarding EMDR:  “I remember walking into my therapist’s office and saying: ‘This stuff actually works!’”

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