About EMDR®

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

In 1987 Dr. Francine Shapiro noticed that the intensity of her thoughts and feelings were reduced after her eyes had been moving rapidly back and forth. As a student of psychology she researched this for her doctoral thesis and by 1989 she developed a totally new type of psychotherapy, now known as EMDR therapy… to this point helping over ½ million people from all walks of life by easing numerous types of psychological suffering.

EMDR is a very safe and effective procedure that facilitates releasing the impact that past experiences have on your present day life. When difficult, brutal or traumatizing experiences are stored in the brain, they are stored in an anxiety generating form with original pictures, emotions, feelings and experience. EMDR permits the brain to convert the memories into normal less disturbing memories. The memories are not removed, they simply no longer create the upsetting reaction that they have in the past.

EMDR has 3 major benefits: speed, efficiency and results that last, quickly moving you from a place of distress, to an improved condition in less time than conventional therapies. Research studies have proven that reprocessing difficult memories and emotions assists people to experience much needed relief from their past.

When is EMDR appropriate? There are two forms of trauma, major, “big T” Trauma and what we call “small t” trauma. Major traumas are the horrendous events, such as wartime experiences, rape, sexual abuse, the loss of a child or loved one. “Small t” traumas are the everyday misfortunes, akin to daily negative childhood messages leading one to grow up believing they will never be good enough, low self-esteem, etc., preventing one from living their life to its full potential. EMDR therapy may not be appropriate for all situations. A certified EMDR therapist will take a thorough history to determine if and how EMDR can be used as part of an overall treatment program.

EMDR therapy has been successfully used to relieve many issues, including:

PSTD • Anxiety • Depression • Phobias Addictions • Sexual Abuse • Grief • Panic Attacks • Performance Anxiety •Self Esteem • Dissociative Disorders

How many sessions are needed? The amount of sessions needed is dependent upon a number of factors including the nature of the condition, the patient’s history and the ability to tolerate various levels of disturbance.

susan sugar

For more information on EMDR I suggest reading EMDR Therapy: BreakthroughTherapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Trauma

by Francine Shapiro and Margot Silk Forrest



More recommended books:

Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro

Emotional Healing at Warp Speed: The Power of EMDR   by David Grand, Ph.D.

The Instinct to Heal:  Curing Depression, Anxiety and Stress Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy   by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD


EMDR FAQs  (Click on each for more information)



What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” and was developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD., of Palo Alto, CA. It is an innovative clinical treatment that has successfully helped many thousands of individuals who have survived traumatic events, including natural disaster, sexual abuse, domestic violence, combat, crime, and those suffering from a number of other complaints including depression, addictions, phobias and a variety of self-esteem and performance related issues.
EMDR has been featured on “20/20”, NPR’s “Morning Edition”, CNN and in articles in Harper’s, Newsweek, New York magazine, Psychology Today, USA Today, and in numerous local and regional magazines, newspapers, radio and TV broadcasts.

EMDR is not a ‘stand-alone’ methodology, but rather one that may be integrated with most traditional therapeutic approaches. With EMDR, the brain’s information processing system is activated, focused and accelerated so that people can achieve recognizable and lasting changes at a rapid rate.

Many controlled studies support the effectiveness of EMDR, making it one of the most thoroughly researched methods ever. Studies over the past few years with individuals suffering from events such as rape, combat, loss of a loved one, accidents, natural disasters, etc. have found that 84-90% no longer had post-traumatic stress disorder after only several treatment sessions. In another recent study, financed by Kaiser Permanente, EMDR was found to be significantly more effective in a fraction of the time when compared to the typical or traditional treatment methods regularly utilized within the Kaiser Permanente system at that time.

However, it is important to note that EMDR is not a quick fix. While many people show dramatic responses in a short amount of time, there are also those who will progress more slowly and that the slower progression is not abnormal. Just as in any therapy or change process, progress advances at the rate appropriate to the individual and his/her unique situation.


Who can benefit from EMDR treatment?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has played a role in relieving the symptoms of clients troubled by extreme abuse histories and early or recent traumatic events. Many persons who have not found relief (via other therapies, treatments or other resources) from chronic conditions as addictions, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and limited personal and professional performance, have done so with EMDR treatment. Positive change/recovery need not be a lifelong challenge.


How does it work?

Shortly following her discovery of the positive effects of the treatment, Dr. Shapiro and others were curious about that answer as well. At that time she and her colleagues theorized that since the eye movements were similar to those observed in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) or dream sleep, the answer may well involve the activation of the same internal neurological and biological processes that occur naturally during dream sleep, a time when unprocessed information left over from the day’s activities is processed and ‘filed away’ thus ‘clearing the slate’ for the next day.

Dr. Shapiro has been unwavering in her encouragement and support of research that will shed light on the processes that produce results and will validate and continue to expand the application of this treatment beyond PTSD treatment. With recent advances in technology, studies out of Harvard University have begun to indicate that there appears to be some evidence that the original theory was headed in the right direction. Brain chemistry and activity during REM sleep and during EMDR treatment appear to have many similarities. As such, further studies to explore and expand on these findings are underway and more are in the planning stages. All that said, the answer for now is: no one actually knows for sure, but the elusive answer to that question seems closer now than ever before.


What is emotional trauma?

Essentially, there are two categories of trauma, Simple and Complex. Simple trauma can be looked at in terms of a one-time, memorable, event such as an auto or airplane accident, natural disaster, criminal victimization or a significant war-zone incident. These experiences are sometimes labeled as “Big ‘T’” traumas.

Complex trauma usually involves a prolonged exposure to a physically and/or emotionally unhealthy environment in which the traumatizing events and experiences are ongoing over a period of time, usually months or years, and may have been eventually normalized (seen as “This is the way all the world really is and this is how I fit into it.”). These situations may include physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, neglect or abandonment within the family, peer or social situations. These experiences are sometimes labeled as “small ’t’” or environmental traumas.

These “t” events may integrate into one’s life and have a negative impact on self-esteem. When a person normalizes these “t” experiences, belittling, abusive or otherwise negative treatment from others may be tolerated or even sought out, which only serves to reinforce a distorted and poor sense of self-worth.

Regardless of the origin, each type of trauma, when unhealed, can result in a distorted, usually negative, self-image, a pattern of mood swings, sleep disorders, and/or behavioral disorders including the arenas of eating, sexuality and violence. It is not uncommon to see such persons also struggle with chemical dependency issues that may arise out of attempting to self-medicate away their uncomfortable feelings.

Unsatisfying/unrewarding relationships, social and intimate, are also often reported by these individuals. Although many “T” problems and symptoms can be rapidly resolved, it is not uncommon for a “T” event to re-activate old and unresolved or ‘hibernating’ “t” problem(s) that then can make symptom resolution a more complex and a longer-term process.

In all, the symptoms of emotional trauma, though troublesome or inconvenient at best and emotionally crippling at worst, are the normal consequences of exposure to an emotionally or physically unhealthy and unsafe incident or environment.


Do medications interfere with EMDR sessions?

Most commonly prescribed medications do not cause problems with EMDR treatment. In cases where this may be a potential problem, a consultation with the prescribing physician may work to resolve the problem. There have been instances when some persons taking certain medications during treatment that had gone well and then successfully concluded, later found a return of some symptoms when the medication was discontinued.

This seems to represent a situation where the learning done in the presence of a medication was only OK/valid as long as the medication was present. A subsequent brief re-exposure to EMDR treatment without the medications involved has been shown to have provided the bridge to re-establishing all the interrupted gains/improvements.


Am I in control during EMDR?

You are always in control during an EMDR session. Your active involvement and feedback is essential to the process. EMDR is not a trance/hypnotic state and you are fully aware and conscious of all that happens in a session. You actually have more direct involvement in choice of topic/focus issue, starting and stopping the process, the speed of processing and in the manner of resolution than in most other therapy approaches.


What are the advantages of EMDR therapy?

Research studies show that EMDR is very effective in helping people process emotionally painful and traumatic experiences. When used in conjunction with other therapy modalities, EMDR helps move the client quickly from emotional distress to peaceful resolution of the issues or events involved.

Traditional therapies often focus on memories from the unconscious mind, and then analyzing their meaning to gain insight into the problem. EMDR clients also acquire valuable insights during therapy, but EMDR can short-cut the process and go right to the releasing stage.

Studies consistently show that treatments with EMDR result in elimination of the targeted emotion or memory. The memory remains, but the negative response is neutralized.


Is there research that supports these claims?

More than 30 controlled studies of EMDR make it the most thoroughly researched method ever used in the treatment of trauma! A recent study of individuals who experienced rape, military combat, loss of loved ones, disasters and serious accidents, found that 84-90% had relief of their emotional distress after only three EMDR sessions. Another study showed that EMDR was twice as effective in half the amount of time of standard traditional psychotherapeutic care. Another study of subjects with post traumatic stress revealed that the significant improvement they gained with the EMDR treatments were maintained for at least 15 months.

Although some people have dramatic responses in a short period of time, others will progress more slowly. However, the results will be equally effective and long-lasting.

Since the initial medical study in 1989, world-wide research has helped develop and evolve EMDR. To date, more than half a million people have benefited from EMDR therapy.


What EMDR is not.

EMDR is not hypnosis. You will not go into a trance or lose conscious control. Although EMDR is a simple procedure, it cannot be casually applied. Due to its powerful nature, it is essential for EMDR to be administered by a licensed mental health practitioner in the context of psychological treatment. EMDR is not a magic pill.

Like hypnosis, EMDR seems to work with the unconscious mind, bringing into consciousness the repressed thoughts and feelings that must be experienced again in order to release their energetic hold on the person.


What type of training does a therapist need to use EMDR?

Only practicing, licensed psychotherapists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors may receive EMDR training. These are the only mental health professionals qualified to use EMDR therapy with clients. A clinical background is necessary for proper application of the EMDR technique. This is a highly specialized method that requires supervised training for therapeutic effectiveness and client safety.

For additional information visit either of these websites:
EMDR Institute www.emdr.com or EMDR International Association www.emdria.org

If you have any unanswered questions or would like to set up an initial consultation, please contact me.