What Is Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)?

A therapist trying EMDR with a patient.

An exciting aspect of being a clinician is that there are endless possibilities to continue learning new interventions and approaches to building a therapeutic relationship with your clients. While developed in the 1980s, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has recently gained popularity worldwide due to increased awareness and certification opportunities.

What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR is an intervention that was designed to help patients alleviate their distress from traumatic events. EMDR targets traumatic memories by inducing REM (Rapid Eye Movement), similar to that which is experienced during sleep, to transform the memory. A Harvard researcher found that through the mechanisms of REM sleep, internal associations arise and the client can process traumatic memories.

EMDR therapists aim to desensitize the triggers so that traumatic memories can be accessed. Traumatic memories can be re-encoded and have their emotional meanings reprogrammed or reprocessed through the practice of EMDR.

Bilateral stimulation is a key component of EMDR. Bilateral stimulation refers to the use of a stimulus that is present on both sides of the body. The primary forms of bilateral stimulation are visual, audio, and tactile. The clinician can use equipment such as light bars or tappers/buzzers. Other popular techniques include moving a dot across the client’s visual space, manual tapping, or alternating sounds.

Who can benefit from EMDR therapy?

EMDR targets individuals of all ages. Children, adolescents, and adults can benefit from EMDR intervention. While EMDR was previously used solely for treating trauma, it has also been used as a helpful treatment for anxiety, depression, OCD, chronic pain, and addiction.

What does EMDR treatment look like?

EMDR treatment includes eight phases. The phases are as follows:

  • Phase 1: History-taking and identifying the targets for EMDR processing.
  • Phase 2: Discussing various imagery and stress-reduction techniques to be practiced during and in-between EMDR sessions.
  • Phase 3-6: Targeting of a specific memory using EMDR procedures.
  • Phase 7: Ensuring the client is feeling better than where they started. If reprocessing the memory is left incomplete, the clinician guides the client through the specific skills developed in Phase 2. In addition, the client is informed of what to expect after an EMDR reprocessing session and taught any additional skills that may be used outside of the session.
  • Phase 8: Examining the client’s progress as well as any insights or pressing concerns (dreams, nightmares, headaches/migraines) they may have had between sessions before re-entering a reprocessing session.

What are the advantages of EMDR therapy?

EMDR’s popularity has a lot to do with its multitude of benefits. EMDR has proven to be effective with quick results. Some studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions. A few of the other benefits of EMDR therapy include:

  • Better sleep
  • Fewer nightmares
  • Reduction of flashbacks

What are the disadvantages of EMDR therapy?

There are a few areas of uncertainty with EMDR being a relatively new modality. Currently, there is no evidence to show that EMDR is helpful for individuals who are suffering from physical conditions such as an injury to the brain. In addition, EMDR has not been researched long-term to discover if any complications could be present later in life.

Do I need to be EMDR certified to use EMDR in my practice?

EMDR certification is not required to bring EMDR techniques into your practice. However, there are benefits to training and certification. These benefits include:

  • Increase in your understanding and skills in EMDR therapy beyond basic training
  • Improved competence for EMDR therapy techniques
  • Effective treatment of complex trauma
  • Access to a community of therapists who value EMDR therapy as much as you do via the EMDR International Association

When seeking out an EMDR certification course, it is important to ensure that basic training is offered through an EMDRIA Approved Trainer.

Where can I find more information about EMDR therapy?

To learn more about EMDR therapy, check out the EMDR International Association or the EMDR Institute, Inc .

Great Lakes Psychology Group brings educational opportunities about emerging therapeutic modalities to its network of clinicians through professional development webinars and seminars. GLPG has hosted EMDR Certified Therapists and EMDR Consultants to introduce the practice of EMDR to its network of clinicians. At Great Lakes Psychology Group, we acknowledge the importance of continued growth and development.

If you are interested in hearing more about our Outpatient Therapist opportunities, please contact to learn more.

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