What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a highly successful treatment for trauma that uses knowledge from neuroscience to help the brain reprocess traumatic memories.

EMDR clients share their stories:

“Healing Trauma” Public Awareness Film for EMDR Therapy (EMDRIA.org)

Traumatic memories are stored in their own encapsulated neural network in the brain. The brain cannot use its own healing processes to manage the memories, as the memories are “stuck.” The traumatized individual continues to react with high levels of anxiety, fear and distress when the memory is triggered. The “fight, flight, or flee” mechanism is then activated in the brain. From there, the brain perceives an active threat when the memory is triggered.

This neurological threat response is not something that is easily or consciously controlled. It is a basic survival instinct hard-wired into the brain. The person then responds with an array of traumatic symptoms. These can include anxiety, insomnia, flashbacks, intrusive recollections of the event, mistrust, irritability or rage, and even detachment from loved ones.

EMDR works to connect the memory into what is called the “adaptive neural network.” The traumatic blocks are removed, and the brain’s natural healing can then begin. The memory becomes part of narrative memory.  A bad thing that happened a long time ago, that has little power anymore.

Is it Effective?

  • Some studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three sessions.
  • Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after only six sessions.
  • In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions.
  • EMDR is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.
  • EMDR is effective for people not diagnosed with PTSD as well, who still are impacted by painful memories.

Specialized Training

EMDR requires specialized training. Most of the therapists at Spencer Psychology have received Level 1 and Level 2 specialized supervised training  through the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA).

Learn more at emdria.org.

EMDR Therapy Self Assessment Quiz

Do you have some unresolved issues? Could you benefit from EMDR therapy? To find out, take this brief self-test.

  1. Think of something that chronically bothers you.
  2. What negative feelings are you experiencing? Anxiety, sadness, panic, worry, agitation, anger, and frustration are common.
  3. What negative thought do you have? Common thoughts in unresolved issues are thoughts of being worthless, alone, not good enough, not safe, unvalued, trapped or powerless.
  4. Now, allow yourself to think back to an earlier time, perhaps sometime in childhood with your parents, when you felt and thought the same way. When was that time? Unprocessed memories often cluster together throughout the years, where an event today can trigger a cascade of other memories from earlier in your life.
  5. Does the memory create physical sensations in your body? Common somatic responses include nausea or tightness in your stomach, pressure or heaviness in your chest, heart rate increases, or a lump in your throat (caused by your autonomic nervous system activating from the memory).
  6. If you have identified an earlier time, on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no disturbance and 10 is as high as you can imagine, how distressing are these feelings or body sensations right now?
  7. If you rated this memory at a “2” or higher, then that memory may be stuck and could benefit from being reprocessed with EMDR. If you rated that memory at a 3 or higher, that painful memory could be negatively impacting you.


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