EMDR is a specialized procedure for resolving trauma or loss memories. Briefly, it involves having the client concentrate on the worst moment of the memory while visually following the therapist’s moving fingers; this is repeated with different aspects of the memory until no further distress remains. EMDR is now one of the most well-researched psychotherapy treatments for trauma and (in a recent meta-analysis) has been found to be the most efficient of the well-established trauma treatments.
Dr. Ricky Greenwald was a pioneer in developing EMDR for children and teens, has authored numerous peer-reviewed articles and two books on EMDR, and is the recipient of two major awards from the EMDR International Association. Dr. Greenwald developed the full-package model of EMDR training — including all parts as well as follow-up consultation — which has been emulated internationally. After EMDR’s originator, TICTI is the leading source of EMDR training (in therapists trained per year) in USA/Canada.
This web site features numerous EMDR-related publications as well as our schedule for EMDR training. We also provide EMDR consultation to groups and individuals. Many of the therapists listed in Find A Therapist and as Therapy Retreat providers are trained in EMDR.
What is EMDR? Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a non-drug, non-hypnosis psychotherapy procedure. The therapist guides the client in concentrating on a troubling memory or emotion while moving the eyes rapidly back and forth (by following the therapist’s fingers). This rapid eye movement, which occurs naturally during dreaming, seems to speed the client’s movement through the healing process.
What is it used for? EMDR is used to treat troubling symptoms such as anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and post-traumatic reactions. It can also be used to enhance emotional resources such as confidence and self-esteem.
What happens in a session? EMDR is different for everyone, because the healing process is guided from within. Sometimes past issues or memories come up, which are related to the current concern. These may also be treated with EMDR, perhaps in the same session. Sometimes a painful memory brings up unpleasant emotions or body sensations. This is normal and generally passes within a few minutes, as long as the EMDR is not stopped. The upsetting emotion or memory often seems to fade into the past and lose its power.
Why bring up a painful memory? When painful memories are avoided, they keep their disturbing power. However, a flashback or nightmare can feel as upsetting and overwhelming as the original experience, yet not be helpful. In therapy, and with EMDR, you can face the memory in a safe setting, so that you do not feel overwhelmed. Then you can get through it and move on.
Will I be in control? It is hard to predict the thoughts, feelings, or memories that might come up during EMDR. It depends upon each individual’s natural healing process. You are always in charge of whether to continue or stop. You can also decide how much to tell the therapist about the experience. The therapist serves as a guide to help you stay on track and get the most out of the session, and may encourage you to continue through difficult parts.
Are there any precautions? Yes. There are specific procedures to be followed depending on your presenting problem, emotional stability, medical condition, and other factors. It is very important that the therapist be formally trained in EMDR, and to be competent in trauma-informed therapy. Otherwise, there is a risk that EMDR would be incomplete, ineffective, or even harmful.
What happens afterwards? You may continue to process the material for days or even weeks after the session, perhaps having new insights, vivid dreams, strong feelings, or memory recall. This may feel confusing, but it is just a continuation of the healing process, and should simply be reported to the therapist at the next session. (However, if you become concerned or depressed, you should call your therapist immediately.) As the distressing symptoms fade, you can work with the therapist on developing new skills and ways of coping.
How can I get EMDR treatment? The EMDR International Association maintains a listing of certified EMDR therapists. Many of the therapists listed on our Find A Therapist page, as well as providers for our Therapy Retreats, have been trained both in EMDR and in trauma-informed treatment. The therapist you select will talk with you about strategies for helping you; then together you can develop a treatment plan, which may include EMDR.
How can I learn more about EMDR? You can read articles about EMDR on our Publications page. Another excellent resource is the EMDR International Association.
For more information, contact:
Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute