Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful method of doing psychotherapy. EMDR is now an accepted therapy, approved by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.   


In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts under certain conditions . Dr. Shapiro studied this effect scientifically and, in 1988 she reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.  Since then EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world.  Today, EMDR is a set of protocols that incorporate elements from many different treatment approaches.


No one knows exactly how EMDR works. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily.  One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings have not changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect on the way a person sees the world and relates.  Sometimes the person is unaware of the frozen event.  Despite this lack of awareness, these frozen past events interfere with his or her life.  Following a successful EMDR treatment, the images, sounds, and feelings no longer are stuck in the brain when the event is brought to mind.  What happened is still remembered, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals.  However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.


A large enough number of scientific studies have shown that EMDR is effective to allow the major psycholgical and psychiatric associations to validate it as an effective treatment.    One early example: the prestigious Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology published research by Wilson, Becker and Tinker in December 1995.  This study of 80 subjects with post-traumatic stress demonstrated that clients improved significantly with EMDR treatment, and further study showed that this beneficial effect was maintained for a least 15 months. The findings from this and other studies indicate that EMDR is highly effective and that results are long lasting.  For further references a bibliography of research on EMDR may be obtained through EMDRIA.


During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem to be the focus of a treatment session.  The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., and what thoughts and beliefs currently are held about that event. The therapist performs sets of eye movements while the client focuses on the  disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content.  Each person will process information uniquely, based on personal experience and values.  It is important to understand that there is no way (for the client) to do EMDR incorrectly! Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thought and beliefs about oneself; for example, “I did the best I could.” During EMDR the client may experience more intense emotions, but  by the end of the session most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.


One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment.  The therapist will discuss EMDR more fully and provide an opportunity to answer any questions about the method.  Once the therapist and client have agreed that EMDR is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR therapy can begin.

The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.  A single session of EMDR is sufficient in some cases.  However, a typical course of treatment is 3-10 sessions, performed weekly or every other week.  EMDR, in Dr. Edwards view, is best used in combination with cognitive behavioral principles.  She sees the most improvement in clients who learn how to stop retraumatizing themselves with words and images that decrease self acceptance.  She also finds that cognitive behavioral principles can be easily taught and provide additional support when people open the doors to unresolved issues through EMDR. 


Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post-traumatic stress.  However, clinicians reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following condisions:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress
  • Phobias
  • Panic Attacks
  • Performance Anxiety
  • Performance Enhancement
  • Stress Reduction
  • Sexual and/or Physical Abuse
  • Disturbing Memories
  • Complicated Grief
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Addictions


Dr. Edwards chooses the therapy that is most helpful to her client in consultation with the client.  There has never been a problem with insurance coverage. 

Some of the above information is extracted from EMDRIA documentation.  For additional information you may contact EMDRIA directly at:

EMDR International Association

5806 Mesa Drive, Suite 360
Austin, Texas  78731
Tel: 512-451-5200
Toll Free in the US & Canada: 866-451-5200         
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