Home » Blog » How does EMDR work?

How does EMDR work?

EMDR is a highly effective and rapid form of therapy for trauma. If you have flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or if you are stuck in a depression or anxiety spiral due to a trauma, EMDR can help you feel better. Trauma can be “single-incident” – one big event like an unexpected death or “developmental” – meaning many smaller situations that pile up over time. An example of a developmental trauma is growing up in a family where there was no recognition of emotions. Traumatic events can include the presence of abuse or the absence of appropriate love and physically/emotional care (neglect). 

Trauma gets stuck in the body when we don’t have the capacity to process it at the time that it happens. One sign that an event from the past is a stuck trauma is if you still feel the same level of distress when you think about it now that you felt at the time or right after. Once trauma gets stuck in the body it needs help getting unstuck. EMDR is kind of like a magic eraser for trauma. It takes events that feel charged and takes the charge away. You will likely still be able to remember the event and you be able to think about it as upsetting but it will no longer feel upsetting. Sometimes EMDR makes the memory of traumatic events less clear or accessible. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treatment looks like holding on to two egg shaped “tappers” that alternate their vibration from the left to the right to the left and back. The left right left shift is what is referred to by “bi-lateral” and stimulation can be anything from auditory to tactile to visual. I prefer using tactile – the tappers mentioned above because people using find it pleasant and comforting. I also use eye movements when needed or preferred by the client. We do sets or repetitions of approximately 30-45 seconds and then check in to see what is coming up. With EMDR you can say as much or as little about the event as you would like. 

EMDR can be intense but it’s worth it because the relief comes so quickly. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself for EMDR by making enough space before or after your sessions to decompress or relax. You may need a few minutes, a few hours, or the rest of the day depending on how you move through the work. It’s also a good idea to have someone in your life that you can talk to about EMDR outside of sessions so I always recommend telling a friend in advance so you can get support if you need it. I am available for extra support for my EMDR clients however I don’t usually find that they need it. 

Related Articles

Going Home for the Holidays

For some of us, including me, the phrase “going home for the holidays” invites anxiety, dread, and avoidance. Every year I struggle to decide what to do for Thanksgiving. The “holiday” has a lot of difficult subjects wrapped up in it.

What is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is a group program that was developed in the 1970’s and is based on meditation techniques developed by Buddhist monastics over a period of thousands of years. I am a highly trained practitioner teacher of MBSR and also a highly trained meditator and meditation teacher in the Buddhist tradition.