EMDR is a psychotherapeutic treatment that was originally designed to relieve anxiety associated with traumatic memories. The adaptive information processing model claims that EMDR therapy facilitates the access and processing of traumatic memories and other negative life experiences in order to bring the organism to adaptive resolution.
EMDR therapy allows normalization of information processing and integration. Specifically, through the application of EMDR, past traumatic experiences, current triggers and future potential challenges are targeted, which results in alleviating and eliminating symptoms, reducing or eliminating anxiety, improving self-image, and resolving current and future life situations.
Francine Shapiro’s Adaptive Information Processing (AOP) model explains the effects of EMDR and provides a common platform for theoretical discussion. The AOP model provides the framework through which to understand and implement the eight stages of EMDR implementation in the context of the past, present, and future. Through the research and development of the theory behind the EMDR technique, the evolution and explanation of the mechanisms and models for achieving mental health is achieved.
Through the application of EMDR, resolution of traumatic and disturbing negative life experiences is achieved through a standardized set of procedures and protocols that include attentional focus and alternating bilateral visual, auditory and/or tactile stimulation. This process activates memories of upsetting life events and facilitates adaptive processing and integration of information.
Traumatic events and/or disturbing negative life experiences are stored in a way that leads to inappropriate or impaired connectivity with memory networks containing adaptive information. The pathology is thought to occur when adaptive information processing is disrupted by traumatic experiences that the nervous system has failed to adequately process. Information is inappropriately encoded and dysfunctionally linked within the emotional, cognitive, sensory, and temporal systems. In this way, memories are dysfunctional in relation to time, place and context and can be experienced as fragmented, separated or fragmented – there is no temporal, spatial, emotional continuity in memories. In conditions of fragmented, fragmented memories new information, positive experiences and emotions cannot be functionally linked to the disturbing memory. This disruption of the integration of new and old (traumatic) experiences contributes to the maintenance of symptoms.
When is EMDR used?
EMDR is used for the following types of mental health disorders:
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and panic attacks, depression, stress, phobias, sleep problems, complicated grief, addictions, lack of self-esteem and fear of public speaking.
Who is the creator of EMDR?
Francine Shapiro is an American psychologist and educator who pioneered the creation of EMDR and developed it to a level of therapy that is now so well researched that it is recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the Department of Defense and veterans issues.
She has written independently or co-authored more than 60 texts, book parts and books including: Getting Past Your Past: Taking Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy (Rodale), EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (Guilford Press), EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Trauma (Basic Books), EMDR as an Integrative Psychotherapy Approach: Experts of Diverse Orientations Explore the Paradigm Prism (American Psychological Association Books), and Handbook of EMDR and Family Therapy Processes(Wiley).
What is EMDR – useful information for clients
EMDR is an abbreviation of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This complex and powerful method of psychotherapy incorporates the most successful elements from a wide range of psychotherapy approaches, and as a specific supplement uses eye movements or other forms of bilateral rhythmic stimulation such as tapping or alternating sounds in a way that helps the nervous system to process the traumatic information.
EMDR is a psychotherapy that allows people to heal from symptoms of emotional distress caused by traumatic life experiences. Research shows that through EMDR therapy, people can feel the effects of improvement in a short period of time, which with some other therapies takes much longer.
EMDR shows that the mind can recover from emotional trauma just as the body can recover from physical trauma. The information processing system in our brain is naturally geared towards mental health. When that system is blocked by upsetting events, emotional injuries cause intense suffering. Once that blockage is removed, the healing process continues. Through the application of detailed protocols and procedures, psychotherapists help clients activate their own natural healing processes.
The EMDR therapy process works in three directions:
Coping with traumatic experiences from the past
Coping with the current stressful situation
Dealing with disturbing ideas that are related to future events
How long can EMDR therapy last?
Therapy can last from 1 to 3 sessions to a year or more depending on the complexity of the problem, the type of trauma and life circumstances. EMDR sessions can last from 60 to 90 minutes. EMDR can be a brief targeted treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy program.
What does EMDR therapy look like?
In EMDR, the therapist works together with the client to identify a specific problem to be worked on during the psychotherapy process. Using a structured therapeutic protocol, consisting of eight stages, the therapist guides the client to describe the traumatic event and recognize the dysfunctional aspect, helping him to determine the most important disturbing elements of the memories. After the therapist and client have identified the traumatic event the therapist will ask the client to follow the therapist’s fingers as they move back and forth across the client’s field of vision. Sometimes a moving light bar or headphones are used instead. These movements will last for a short time and then stop. The client will then be asked to report the experiences they 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 is altered in such a way that its painful intensity is lost and it simply becomes a neutral recollection of past events. Other related memories can be healed at the same time. This connection of memories can lead to dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.
EMDR is based on rapid eye movements that help deal with traumatic experiences, similar to what happens when we sleep. During sleep, regular sleep and REM (rapid eye movement that occurs while dreaming) alternate. Applying the sleep/dream pattern helps process troubling memories.
During EMDR therapy, the client may experience very intense emotions, but at the end of the therapeutic work, the vast majority of clients notice a significant reduction in symptoms related to the traumatic experience. It leads to a reduction of symptomatology, to a change of negative beliefs in the direction of positive ones, which enables optimal functioning of the client.
Does the client maintain control during treatment?
During EMDR therapy, the client is fully awake and aware. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. During the session, the therapist will support and facilitate the client’s self-healing and will intervene as little as possible. The reprocessing of traumatic memories is usually perceived as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights emerge quite naturally. As a result, most people experience EMDR as a natural and highly stimulating therapy.
The Basics of EMDR (The 8 Stages)
In EMDR, specific and well-defined treatment procedures facilitate information processing using an approach that optimizes client stabilization before, during, and after processing disturbing and traumatic memories and associated stimuli. The EMDR approach supports the client’s innate ability to self-heal. Therefore, during the reprocessing of memories, therapeutic intervention is reduced to a minimum, which is necessary for the smooth processing of information, memories.
Phase 1: Client history and treatment planning
EMDR therapy begins with an interview, where present problems and events from the early life stages that are supposed to cause the current problems are identified, while the fulfillment of future goals is ascertained.
Phase 2: Preparation
This phase includes preparing the client to face and process traumatic memories, as well as psychoeducation to master self-control techniques. Preparation will allow the client to feel in control of the process of coping and processing traumatic memories.
Phase 3. Evaluation
Evaluation is the third phase, during which the traumatic memory and its components are identified: negative thoughts, images, sensations – where it is felt in the body, with which emotion it is accompanied, etc. Processing involves stimulating the brain in order to activate its own information processing system that allows neural connections to be made.
Stage 4. Desensitization
This stage involves desensitization which allows new insights and connections to be made. In this phase, the client is instructed to briefly visit the identified aspects to activate the traumatic memories while simultaneously stimulating information processing. During this phase, the client is exposed to periodic sets of eye movements (sometimes taps or tones) lasting approximately 30 seconds. During this time, a process of transforming the “stuck memory” into a learning experience and adaptive resolution occurs. New and adaptive emotions, thoughts and memories emerge, and old counterproductive ones are erased. Processing upsetting memories can help prevent them from reactivating. For example, the feelings of shame and fear present at the beginning of the session in a rape victim may be replaced by the feeling towards herself that she is a strong and resilient woman.
Stage 5. Installing new information
This phase involves the installation of new adaptive information by emphasizing the positive belief that the client wants about himself: the goal of the therapist is to strengthen this belief in order for the client to fully believe that this feeling, attitude about himself is completely true.
Stage 6: Body Scan
Phase 6 consists of a body scan, where the client calls up memories, maintains a positive self-belief, and scans to check for any unpleasant sensations in the body. If there is, the process continues. The memory is processed, evaluated, re-evaluated until all issues are resolved and the client fully feels their power.
Stage 7: Closure
The seventh stage or the closure stage brings clients into a complete state of balance. The client is reminded of the self-control techniques they learned during the sessions and it is pointed out that they can practice them whenever they need to.
Stage 8: Reevaluation
The eighth phase consists of examining the progress achieved. EMDR treatment addresses all associated historical events, current distressing incidents, and future events that will require different responses. If the client has multiple traumas, this phase will identify those areas and the process will begin again with a new target trauma. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, clients will achieve physiological calming, anxiety relief, and the ability to reframe negative beliefs.
The EMDR psychotherapy approach is recognized by:
World Health Organization WHO (2013): Guidelines for the management of conditions specifically related to stress. Geneva, Switzerland (WHO (2013): Guidelines for the Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress. Geneva, Switzerland), download
American Psychiatric Association (2004): Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. American Psychiatry Association (2004) Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Acute Stress Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. download
International Sigmund Freud Award (2002) for outstanding achievements in the field of psychotherapy. Acknowledgments of most national health organizations throughout Europe and the world.
“Changing the memories that shape the way we see ourselves also changes the way we see others. Therefore, our relationships, our work performance, what we are willing to do or can resist, all move in a positive direction.”