EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment that is different from other approaches because it is not traditional “talk therapy.” The focus is to process past events and memories to reduce re-experiencing negative thoughts, feelings, and associations that contribute to current life problems or distress. It is an evidenced-based treatment to reduce symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and is one of the few approved methods to treat PTSD by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Instead of traditional “talk therapy” approaches, this treatment uses sensory stimuli, such as: eye movements, tapping, lights, or sounds, while being guided by a therapist to reprocess negative events. What is so different from traditional psychotherapy, is that a client doesn’t need to tell the trauma story over and over, or reveal every detail of the negative experience.
A structured protocol is followed to fully process past negative feelings and events. Treatment can uncover connections to negative past experiences or memories that continue to block life progress, or freeze someone in living past events as if they were happening today. These uncovered connections can then be explored, reconsidered, and reprocessed. This reprocessing helps reduce distress symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, worries, feelings of guilt or shame, blaming, fears, grief, inadequacy, powerlessness, danger, or poor self image. While it is evidenced-based to treat PTSD and trauma, it is also frequently successful to treat anxiety, fears, depression, stress, and performance concerns (improving public speaking, sports enhancement, or career advancement).
Some controversy among therapists about this treatment remains today as the approach is fairly new, and why it works is not well understood. As with any type of therapy, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, emerging neurobiological research supports the efficiency of this treatment as more scientific understanding is gained on how memories are stored and processed in the brain and body.
It is an exciting and powerful method to overcome past experiences to unlock forward progress. Because it is common for intense emotions or feelings to arise from this treatment, it is imperative to seek the guidance and aid of a professional with advanced training and experience. EMDR should be conducted by licensed psychotherapists (LMFT, LCSW, psychologists, or psychiatrists) who hold advanced degrees (Master level degrees or higher), training in EMDR, and EMDR Certification. While there are several credible training programs, EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) is the professional group that provides credible EMDR Certification worldwide. I strongly recommend seeking treatment only from an EMDRIA certified professional.