How does EMDR work?

(Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

How does EMDR work? Nobody knows. One theory is that our inner mind does a kind of natural psychotherapy when we sleep, during REM, or Rapid Eye Movement time when we dream.

When our eyes are turned left, they are controlled by the right brain, and when they are turned right, they are controlled by the left brain.

Possibly information moves between the right and left brains on the corpus callosum, a kind of "cable" between the brain sides, when we move our eyes left and right. The left and right sides of the brain process information in different ways.

If a memory is too painful, we sometimes wake up before our dream is finished, and the pain connection is never removed. Possibly EMDR replicates that process, and removes the pain while in the waking state.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) sometimes brings out strong feelings, so you should never attempt to use it unassisted to do therapy on yourself. In the hands of a skilled therapist, it is sometimes much faster than hypnotherapy, though it is often much slower than TAT, TFT or EFT.

Typical time frames might be an hour for a round of EMDR, and 5 or 10 minutes for one of the others. (Not for complete resolution of your problems, but for great improvement on a single problem.) This is an average, and some people or some problems may take longer.

However, if one can deal with a problem with 5 minutes of TAT, that means that in an hour's session, one could deal with 5 or 10 problems. If they are related, then the stress in a general area of one's life might be cleared up in one session (under ideal conditions.)

Because EMDR sometimes brings out strong feelings, I generally use the other methods first. If TAT or EFT cure the problem, then we don't need anything else. If we get stuck at some level, say, bringing the feeling down from a 10 to a 5 (on a scale of 10) but no more after that, then I might move to using EMDR.

At that point, the feelings are weaker, and not likely to overwhelm you. We can generally work from there and reduce the "5" to a "zero." I have not used it in years, because the problem has been treated to zero before I got to it.

All the same, EMDR is much faster than hypnotherapy, which in turn is sometimes much faster than counseling alone. Any of the "energy therapies" might be helpful where other methods might not be, in one particular case or another. EMDR often uses the full hour of therapy, or perhaps even an hour and a half. Where using EFT one might have treated three or four problems in a session, with EMDR one might have to schedule to treat the next problem a week later.


EMDR is an evidenced-based therapy approach used to treat post-traumatic stress symptoms, addictie behaviors (chemical, sexual, financial) depression, anxiety, phobias, and fears. In recent years, clinicians like myself have successfully been expanding the use of EMDR into treatment of addictive and other disorders.

EMDR is safe, effective, highly researched, and endorsed by reputable sources such as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, SAMSHA and the national health services of many countries including the United States, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Italy, and Israel.

My services include EMDR therapy. I have been trained through the EMDR Institute. I have been using EMDR since 1996.

If you would like to learn more about EMDR, here are some resources:

Some EMDR articles that I highly recommend:

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Trauma & Abuse

Having early childhood trauma is common among addictions of all kinds. That does not mean that everyone who has been traumatized will struggle with an addiction. Sometimes trauma symptoms take the form of emotional struggles, post-traumatic stress disorder, long-term anxiety or depression, the inability to have healthy relationships, difficulty keeping a job, inability to focus, or intimacy issues.

Trauma comes in many forms. Some events are obvious, such as sexual assault, witnessing violence, being hurt physically by someone, or experiencing a natural disaster. Other events can be traumatizing only to certain people. It depends on how we perceive the event.

For instance, a person can have a serious car accident and be so terrified that they struggle with being able to drive again. While another person may experience a similar car accident, but they did not experience any trauma symptoms. The important thing is how you feel about the event and what symptoms you are having. If you are unsure, ask yourself some questions.

  • Have you been struggling emotionally?
  • Are you having nightmares or flashbacks?
  • Has it been difficult to sleep since the event?
  • Are you avoiding things that remind you of the trauma?
  • Since the event, are you struggling with your work or home life?
  • Are you feeling numb or real edgy since the event?

Answering yes to any of these questions indicates that you may need to seek professional help and at least be evaluated.

Another form of trauma is abuse. Most people who were abused as a child struggle with it as an adult in some form. Not everyone that has been abused will feel like they need counseling, but a lot will.

Abuse is usually blatant and obvious, but sometimes it is more covert. Many people struggle with guilt and shame because they experienced abusive behavior. They may have been told the abusive behavior was normal or meant they were special. Maybe it was done secretly or made to look like something different.

Sometimes a child is put in an adult role, such as being treated as the parent’s spouse, which may or may not be sexual. If a boy’s father is no longer involved and the mother elevates that boy to a spousal role (or vice versa with a girl), that can be very harmful for the child. This would be called emotional incest.

Examples of emotional incest would be the parent confiding in the child with deep emotional problems, expecting the child to be the parent’s emotional support, expecting the child to take on the role of raising the other siblings and taking care of the household. Of course, if the child is used in a sexual way in addition to emotionally, then this would be a case of not just emotional incest, but sexual incest as well.

Sometimes abuse is done by a stranger, but most of the time it is someone we know. It could be other children or a trusted adult. Often times it is a relative of a friend. As adults, some men or women find themselves in an abusive relationship and struggle with how to get help. They may feel like they deserve that kind of treatment or will not be able to find someone better. All of the following are types of abuse, but all are equally harmful.

  • Sexual abuse – rape, unwanted touching or sexual talk, sexting, forcing you to participate in or watch sexual behavior, pressuring into having sex, forcing you to have unprotected sex, being exposed to pornography or other sexual things as a child
  • Physical abuse – any kind of physical harm such as hitting, kicking, pushing, biting, restraining or confining, choking, threatening to harm or kill, scaring with a weapon, throwing things, breaking things, burning, cutting, hair pulling
  • Verbal abuse – yelling, swearing, calling names, talking over you, repeatedly interrupting or arguing, using loud and threatening talk to intimidate
  • Emotional abuse – talking down to someone, embarrassing in public, not listening or respecting feelings, making threats, being overly jealous, possessive, controlling, shaming, refusing privacy, isolation, humiliation
  • Mental abuse – playing mind games, accusing you of doing things you are not doing, making you feel like everything is your fault, twisting around reality so you feel crazy, lying, manipulating, stalking

* Unexplained symptoms. You don't know why you are reacting oddly, there is no medical explanation, and perhaps you did not always do it. But it is there. This can be treated without knowing the origin of the symptom.

If anything I have said here rings true for you, please get some help from someone who understands trauma and how it affects a person. Recovery from trauma is possible if you have the right kind of help.

One therapy technique that has proven to be very successful in treating trauma symptoms is EMDR. In September 2009 I completed the level one training to be an EMDR clinician. As I began using EMDR in my practice, I found it extremely beneficial to my clients.

EMDR has been extensively researched over the past 20 years and is an evidence-based technique used in treating primarily trauma. EMDR is also used to treat depression, anxiety, phobias, and other similar problems. (More below picture)

What is EMDR?

I’d like to bring to your attention a treatment option, known as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). During EMDR treatment, bilateral stimulation activates opposite sides of the brain, allowing the brain to release and redefine emotional experiences that are “trapped” within the brain as frozen emotion.

This type of stimulation actually resembles REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep as our eyes move from one side to the other. It is during sleep that the brain naturally sorts out our experiences from the day, discarding useless information and transferring memories appropriately.

Sometimes when we experience a traumatic events, big or small (i.e. getting in trouble at school, bullying, or the emotional trauma experienced when dealing with infidelity), these negative experiences can get “trapped” or “frozen” in the brain and they are unable to resolve naturally which may result in nightmares, depression, anger, anxiety, or emotional disturbance.

Along with the “trapped” negative experience is the negative emotional and sensory information, and childlike or initial interpretation of the experience. Even locked away, these negative emotions can still affect us greatly. We can be triggered by any number of things; a scent, a visual object, even being spoken to a certain way can trigger a memory or negative feeling, often without our understanding "why."

When a negative memory is triggered, the neurological response is protection and the result is a state of hyper-arousal commonly referred to as fight or flight. Stress hormones are released into the body and we find ourselves saying things without thinking or doing things that seem out of character. Unfortunately, initial and untrue negative beliefs about oneself are reinforced.  

What’s an EMDR session like?

During a typical EMDR session you would be asked to identify a disturbing target memory. That memory is then processed using bilateral stimulation, the negative feelings, beliefs, or experience become desensitized, meaning they simply become less bothersome. The feelings, beliefs, and/or experience is then reprocessed and a new meaning is attached to the experience or triggers. This involves moving your eyes back and forth, in a particular way.

As your brain arrives at a new conclusion, the original trauma no longer contains the negative emotional charge originally associated with it. The triggers are now neutral, the interpretation of the experience is now intentional and the beliefs about oneself are more positive and present hope instead of powerlessness.

Should I do it? 

So you may be wondering, “Is EMDR right for me?” Well, if you feel like your traumas, or "inner demons," have too much power over you; and if you have a strong desire to be liberated from the traumas of your past, then, yes, EMDR may be a good fit for you.

Please keep in mind, EMDR is not only for those who have suffered significant trauma. Reasons for choosing EMDR include a desire to let go of the rational, logical self and to be able to engage with our emotions at a deeper level. If focusing solely on symptom management is not getting you the results you desire then you may benefit from EMDR, leading you to a deeper understanding of the root cause of the problem and allowing you to deal with it and find resolution.

EMDR can be used to relieve phobias, even if one has no idea where they came from. There are also people who successfully use EMDR to improve their performance at their work, or to improve their attitudes toward certain subjects or persons.

If you have any thoughts or questions related to EMDR, depression, or other mental health issues, please feel free to contact me as I would be more than willing to serve where I can.