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My Blog
by Maria Ferrazzi
January 16, 2019
What is EMDR?

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an approach to psychotherapy that has been practiced in the U.S. and around the world for the past 35 years. Francine Shapiro, PhD, an American psychologist, developed EMDR Therapy. She found—quite by accident—that emotional and behavioral symptoms resulting from disturbing experiences tend to resolve naturally when a person allows him/herself to recall various elements of a memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation such as lateral eye movements. Dr. Shapiro and her associates developed a number of procedures for coordinating this “dual awareness”. The procedures have been refined and validated through controlled research at several centers around the world. Precise and careful use of these procedures can lead to a safe processing of memories, such that the negative memories and emotions decrease in intensity and lose their power over a person.

Description of an EMDR Therapy Session

EMDR integrates many of the successful elements of a range of therapeutic approaches, yet there are aspects of EMDR that are unique. Initially, a complete trauma history is compiled with the person. Next, the person chooses a “safe place” in their mind to retreat to, if need be. The therapist then leads a patient in a series of lateral eye movements while the patient simultaneously focuses on various aspects of a disturbing memory. The left – right eye movements in EMDR therapy are a form of “bilateral stimulation”. Other forms of bilateral stimulation used by EMDR therapists include alternating bilateral sound using headphones and alternating tactile simulation using a handheld device that vibrates or taps to the back of the patient’s hands.

EMDR therapy is applicable for a wide range of psychological problems that result from overwhelming life experiences. During the processing of difficult memories, a person who has been abandoned by a spouse may come to realize that she/he is loveable and is no longer overwhelmed by negative feelings about her/himself or participate in unproductive behaviors stemming from those feelings. A person fearful of driving due to a terrible car accident in the past may end the session feeling safe to drive again.

More than a set of “techniques”, the EMDR approach provides a model for understanding human potential, including how positive experiences support adaptive living, or psychological health, and how upsetting experiences can sometimes lead to psychological problems that interfere with a person’s ability to meet life challenges. The EMDR protocol guides clinicians in careful assessment and preparation work, particularly for persons with histories of multiple traumas. EMDR procedures should only be used by a fully trained EMDR clinician, who holds licensure in the mental health field.


“EMDR is one of the most powerful tools I’ve encountered for treating post-traumatic stress. In the hands of a competent and compassionate therapist, it gives people the means to heal themselves.”

Steven Silver, Ph.D.
Former director of the PTSD Unit,
Veterans Administration Medical Center,
Coatesville, Pennsylvania