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EMDR…focuses not only on regulating the intense memories activated by trauma but

also on restoring a sense of agency, engagement, and commitment through 

ownership of body and mind.

Bessel van der Kolk

What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a therapeutic process utilizing eye movements, sound or pulsations to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain. (This 

process is called “bi-lateral” stimulation.) Focusing on a distressful (or positive) experience along with bi-lateral stimulation brings about changes in the brain that, when completed, brings a person more into a state of balance.

Although a single distressing incident may resolve in a few sessions with EMDR, if your symptoms are a product of many traumas or an extended period of intense stress such as 

an abusive childhood, extensive preparation may be necessary. Your emotional safety is essential to this process and EMDR works best in a trusting and collaborative therapeutic 


Does It Work?

Many people have experienced outstanding results with this research-based therapeutic process, originated and developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. Researchers have been studying the effects of EMDR on the brain to explain its success, and although there are many theories to explain its effectiveness, we don’t really know how it works. However, even without a full explanation, there is plenty of research to show that it is very effective.


What Is an EMDR Session Like?

With an EMDR clinician, after an initial evaluation and discussion of treatment options, you will be prepared for an EMDR session by developing and strengthening your sense of inner safety and emotional resilience. (This is referred to as “resource development”.) EMDR is not hypnosis: during an EMDR session you are fully conscious and may stop at any time.  

When you are fully prepared for EMDR (including a complete psychosocial history) you and your therapist will “set up” a session in which you target a disturbing situation. You will identify and explore feelings, thoughts, body signs, intensity level, and any visual aspects of the experience. Your therapist will use hand motions to stimulate eye movements and begin the 

“processing.” This experience of bringing about changes in the brain is different for each individual and it can be very mild or very intense. In a completed EMDR experience (which will likely take multiple sessions), disturbing feelings and thoughts decrease in intensity, while a comforting or empowering belief about the situation is strengthened.

Here is a more technical description of the 8 Phases of the EMDR Protocol

(EMDR FAQs adapted from

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