EMDR as Trauma Therapy

Currently, there are many different techniques that people can use to alleviate issues they are experiencing due to a traumatic event. Sometimes it can be overwhelming when you are already experiencing negative emotions from the trauma you’ve faced and now you are trying to seek help, but might not know where to start. I believe that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a very beneficial technique that can be added to your regular therapy session. EMDR has been proven to alleviate stress and negative emotions associated with traumatic events (One80center, 2012). To help you better understand EMDR and its benefits, first let me explain what EMDR is.

EMDR therapy is a psychotherapy approach to trauma treatment that uses a series of bilateral stimulation, most common being eye movements, during regular therapy sessions. There are eight phases total in the EMDR process which consist of history, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation (Rousseau, 2021). During the history phase, they discuss both past and present concerns and what they want in the future. They do this to identify and target the traumatic events that they need to process. In the preparation phase, the therapist and client identify a safe place for when the client experiences distress and they have to want to regain self control and a sense of stability (Rousseau, 2021). In the assessment phase, the therapist has the client start to recall the traumatic events while also identifying the negative views and beliefs they have about themselves because of the traumatic event. In the desensitization phase, the clients are now exposed to a series of eye movements or even clicks while they recall the traumatic events. This is supposed to help them reprocess the events (Rousseau, 2021). In the Installation phase they continue the same eye movement mixed in with regular therapy, but this time they are getting the client to focus on the positive beliefs about themselves in relation to the events. After this phase, they conduct a body scan to evaluate if the clients progress and to see if they need more sessions. As for the closure and reevaluation phases, these phases are conducted in every session. Revaluation phase/ process is done in the beginning of every session to see if the client needs to complete a desensitization or installation phase and closure phase/ process is completed at the end of each session so that they can review and it allows the clients gain a sense of safety/ control before leaving the session (Rousseau, 2021).

You might be saying okay I understand the phases, but how does EMDR work exactly? Dr. Andrew  M. Leeds, the author of A Guide to the Standard EMDR Therapy Protocols for Clinicians, Supervisors, and Consultants and who has also used EMDR in his therapy sessions since 1991, explains in an interview on all the current working hypotheses of EMDR, why EMDR is so effective. Dr. Leed brought up the REM, rapid eye movement or orienting response hypothesis as an explanation (One80center, 2012). The REM, rapid eye movement, or orienting response hypothesis has two parts. The first part discusses REM sleep. During REM sleep we lose the vividness of emotions and feelings in the memories we have and we only store the important information instead. This is combined with the second part, in which a therapist brings up the memories while also triggering the client’s orienting response by using rapid eye movement, allowing the client to associate the original stress and emotions from the situation as something from the past and less vivid, which makes the part of the brain that perceives the emotional parts of the event see it as boring stimuli, and then it is moved to the REM system. When they are  moved to the REM system, the memories are stored as less vivid and intense. This in turns helps the client move past their traumatic experiences (One80center, 2012). 

Though EMDR is commonly used for PTSD patients, EMDR has also been proven to work for many other stress disorders. In an article where they analyzed seven different studies that used EMDR therapy with cancer patients, 140 patients in total, they found that EMDR had lowered the stress levels of the patients and improved their overall quality of life (Portigliatti Pomeri, La Salvia,Carletto, Oliva, & Ostacoli., 2020). It was stated that this occurred due to the EMDR therapy alleviating the psychological stress that the patients were experiencing (Portigliatti Pomeri, La Salvia,Carletto, Oliva, & Ostacoli., 2020). 

Though everyone who experiences a traumatic event has a different response, I believe that EMDR is an effective tool that can help alleviate the stress and tiggers that come from the traumatic event. Over all, EMDR has been proven to be a great tool for those who have experienced traumatic events. With EMDR being effective for not only PTSD, but also other stress disorders, I believe that it should be used in regular therapy sessions more frequently. If you would like to see EMDR in practice or get more information check out the Lukin Center youtube page linked below! 


Portigliatti Pomeri, A., La Salvia, A., Carletto, S., Oliva, F., & Ostacoli, L. (2020). EMDR in Cancer Patients: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 590204–590204. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.590204


One80center (September 6th, 2012). Q5: Can you tell us why EMDR works?- EMDR with Dr. Andrew M. Leeds Ph.D.- ONE80CENTER



The Lukin Center (2021, March 9). EMDR Therapy: Demonstration & Step-by-Step Walkthrough. [youtube]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2ra8p4MSOk 

Rousseau, D. (2021).Pathways to Recovery: Understanding Approaches to Trauma Treatment. [virtual lecture]. https://onlinecampus.bu.edu/ultra/courses/_75565_1/cl/outline

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