Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Illustration of EMDR Overview: History, Prep Work, Desensitization, Assessment

Three decades ago, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) was considered strange, ‘out there,’ or what some would call ‘woo woo.’ Today, EMDR has over 35 years of evidenced- based research to support its effectiveness. It has helped  millions of people lessen negative core beliefs about themselves, decrease the intensity of trauma memories, reduce trauma triggers, and PTSD flashbacks. There is approval and specific guidelines issued by the  World Health Organization, the Veterans Administration, and the American Psychological Association stating that EMDR is an effective, highly recommended therapy for individuals who have experienced trauma.

How it works

Unlocking the Power to Heal: EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy stimulates the brain’s natural healing mechanisms, promoting adaptive processing and reducing the emotional intensity associated with traumatic experiences.

EMDR therapy can change and reduce our negative core beliefs that affect how we feel about ourselves and the world. Once we can change our critical beliefs and begin to believe positive things about ourselves while feeling safe and secure, we can profoundly reduce our distress. Through EMDR, we can also release any uncomfortable emotions or emotional charge connected to those beliefs and/or any traumatic experience(s). By reprocessing traumatic events, we can exist in the present moment – and be triggered less often by memories of trauma. This allows us to live in the present and experience a positive sense of ourselves that includes acceptance and self-compassion. With the healing impact of EMDR, we can feel safe, secure, and positively about ourselves and our world. 

The Benefits of EMDR

You may have seen Prince Harry doing EMDR  during one of his public therapy sessions. Or, maybe you’ve read that Sandra Bullock, Kesha, and Ashley Judd have all sought EMDR therapy.

EMDR therapy helps unlock negative beliefs, unprocessed memories, and painful feelings. This process can help us feel freer and make it possible to accept and believe more positive things about ourselves.

Colleen West, MFT, EMDRIA Approved Consultant & EMDR Advocate, and founder of EMDR in Action.

Our brains and bodies are both complex structures, and they hold all of our memories, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs. We process our life experiences in the best way we know how. Sometimes we are on auto-pilot and don’t register each individual step of what we are doing. Other times, certain experiences we have stand out. On those occasions, we can be present and focused and are able to describe in detail whatever happened to us.

Fight, Flight, Flee, and Fawn

When we experience something extremely stressful or traumatic, our brains and bodies don’t process our thoughts, feelings, or sensations normally. We may not have processed the whole event from start to finish in a helpful way. This different way of making sense of our experience happens when we encounter one or more of the stress responses known as Fight, Flight, Flee, or Fawn. Each of these are common responses when we are distressed, in danger, overwhelmed, threatened, or panicked.

Understanding Maladaptive Beliefs

During distressing and/or traumatic encounters our minds and bodies may make connections that aren’t helpful. We refer to these resulting unhelpful beliefs as maladaptive.

We may carry these maladaptive beliefs throughout our lives as they are ingrained within us, or they may be beliefs that are new to us due to a recent experience. These beliefs can be “triggered” inside of us and can cause us to feel depressed, anxious, worried, afraid, sad, etc.

Examples of some unhelpful beliefs are:

  • “It’s my fault.”
  • “I’m a bad person.”
  • “I’m unloveable.”
  • “I’m not enough.”
  • “I’m defective.”
  • “I’m broken.”
  • “I’m too much.”

When these cognitions are triggered repeatedly and cause complications, exacerbate negative mental health related symptoms, or affect our health or relationships, it’s important to get the help we need. If you feel like you have stuck emotions, looping memories, or you are continually reminded of something distressing and nothing you’ve tried has helped you feel better, EMDR can be beneficial.

How is EMDR therapy different from other therapy approaches?

EMDR is not like regular talk therapy. It connects your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, emotions, and bodily sensations together, helping create a deeper level of healing. 

A tree rooted in the past, present and future shows the 8 phases of EMDR: History, Preparation, Assessment, Desensitization, Installation, Body Scan, Closure, Re-Evaluation

We know that our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations all form deep connections in our brains. Sometimes these connections are helpful and give us motivation, hope, and a sense of calm, confidence, and pleasure. In contrast, connections created during stressful or traumatic experiences can cause us to continue suffering even afterwards. Emotional suffering may linger because what we experienced wasn’t fully processed and feels unfinished.

Pictured: 8 phases of EMDR: History, Preparation, Assessment, Desensitization, Installation, Body Scan, Closure, Re-Evaluation

When people experience the after-effects of trauma, they don’t feel like it’s over or that they can move on. We may experience:

  • Negative beliefs that repeat and loop in our mind
  • Feelings of being unsafe even though the threat from the original distressing experience is in the past
  • Flashbacks of the original trauma 
  • Other trauma triggers like smells, sounds, or sights that cause us to feel fear, anxiety, dread, etc. 
  • Intense fear or somatic sensations resembling those of the original trauma.

One goal of EMDR is to help people lessen their unhelpful and even harmful thoughts and beliefs. The 8 standard phases of EMDR therapy are designed to help you identify replace those negative patterns with more helpful and adaptive ones. We will follow the 8 phases throughout your EMDR experience.

Specialized trauma therapy and EMDR therapy can help you put the past where it belongs and decrease the power and impact of trauma while giving you a new sense of freedom.

Preparing for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

When starting EMDR therapy, we take things slow. Our first step is to do a thorough history gathering with possible screenings or assessments. We will want to get to know you by learning about your current symptoms, what and who is important to you,  what you want to gain through EMDR therapy, and what occurred that caused you to seek out therapy services. Additionally, your therapist will review your coping skills, core beliefs, present stress level, and present day challenges. 

Next, we would spend time getting you ready for EMDR and see how you manage uncomfortable feelings. When working with past trauma, we want to make sure you are open. We also want to ensure you have the skills to manage, experience, regulate, or calm any uncomfortable feelings that may arise during an EMDR session. 

If we need to spend some time learning new skills to help you develop ways to calm your distress, help you relax, and lessen your anxious or hyper-vigilant feelings, we will do so before re-processing any memories. 

Eventually, your therapist will work with you to identify specific memories, images, beliefs, and bodily sensations related to the targeted traumatic event in your EMDR sessions. 

Goals of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy helps facilitate the connection of neural networks that didn’t connect helpfully during a stressful event or trauma. These positive connections need to develop to help you know, believe, and feel more positively about yourself and the world. 

EMDR helps you desensitize and reprocess trauma so you can:  

  • Know the trauma(s) is over and in the past
  • Believe that in the present – right now, in this place – you are safe
  • Reduce any emotional charges connected to the traumatic experience
  • Feel more positively about yourself 
  • Reject old negative beliefs about yourself
  • Release old stored emotions that are no longer helpful
  • Decrease any fight, flight, flee, or fawn responses
  • Connect to a new sense of safety, security, and calm

Once you have successfully desensitized and reprocessed any stressful experiences and/or traumatic events, you will:

  • Gain a greater acceptance of yourself; 
  • Develop a deeper understanding of your feelings, thoughts, or stressful experiences; 
  • Form and enhance positive beliefs about yourself; 
  • Increase your hope for the future 

EMDR will help you to realize and begin to believe true things about yourself like:

  • “I am important.”
  • “I am lovable.”
  • “I am enough.”
  • “I am an amazing person.”
  • “I am whole.”
  • “I am enough.”

If you would like to begin to believe more positively about yourself, have less feelings or fight, flight, freeze, or fawn experiences, fewer trauma triggers, and begin to live in the present, EMDR can help. 

Further Reading & Resources

Meet our Therapists

At Health and Healing Therapy, we have EMDR trained therapists to help you manage feelings of high anxiety, fear, panic, hyper-vigilance, and past trauma, chronic pain, or severe and persistent negative beliefs about yourself.

A quiet office with two round teal chairs.

Believe and feel safe, secure, and positively about yourself and the world. 

You don’t have to suffer alone. Our therapists can help you Grow, Heal, and Thrive.