EMDR: What Is It? Why Is It So Effective?

I affectionately call EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) the “laser tool” of therapy. It’s fast, it’s efficient and amazingly effective. And you can use it for almost any emotional difficulty, big or small.

If you are feeling stuck or confused in your life and you have unsuccessfully tried other therapy approaches, EMDR has the ability to create powerful, long-lasting changes in a short amount of time. And there are many scientific research studies to support its effectiveness.

 

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a technique that uses bilateral stimulation (e.g., following a light moving back and forth with your eyes, listening to a tone in alternating ears, feeling a vibrating buzzer in alternating hands) in order to reprocess negative experiences and beliefs into more positive feeling states and beliefs.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

How does EMDR work?

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to turn distressing experience into neutral or positive feeling experience. Using EMDR allows information within the brain to get reprocessed and reintegrated into a healthier, functioning way. Through this process, the neural networks throughout the body are connected, linked-up and soothed into wholeness. Essentially, EMDR accesses the layers of conscious and unconscious patterning that get in our way and reprograms the way we think and feel about ourselves. EMDR has even been shown to change the physical structure and firing patterns of our brain! (see scans below)

Actual EMDR brain scans! Brain on the left shows an emotionally distressed woman before EMDR. Scan on the right shows the same woman after 4 sessions.

In other words, EMDR helps clean out what is keeping you stuck and distressed. You can think of your true self as a free-flowing river. Over time, the river becomes clogged with debris and obstacles that keep it from flowing properly. EMDR is a tool that can help remove the debris of your psyche, so the river (you) flows naturally back into alignment.

Why does EMDR work?

There are many theories on why EMDR works. Some theories suggest it mimics similar processes that occur during REM sleep, which promote mental and emotional well-being.

What is EMDR used for?

Anyone can use EMDR. Any issue big or small can benefit from using EMDR.

EMDR was originally developed to help alleviate anxiety and intense trauma, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), however, EMDR has also been shown to be helpful in treating many different emotional issues such as phobias, panic attacks, depression, relationship issues, attachment and stress.

In fact, EMDR has been approved as an effective treatment for PTSD by the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration.

Here’s a great short video explaining benefits of EMDR:

 

My discovery of EMDR

Along my own personal healing journey I came to a point where I felt very stuck and frustrated. I was working with a psychotherapist and trying very hard to be a “good client”; however, I wasn’t gaining the relief I was searching for. I felt like I was going in circles. Talking about my problems only seemed to take me so far, so I started searching for other ways of healing. I needed something that could get to the core of my issues, where the deepest healing could occur.

After feeling frustrated with my progress in therapy, I was introduced to EMDR. As I began to read about it, I read amazing personal success stories and scientific research to support EMDR’s effectiveness, but I was still unsure whether I wanted to try it. Even though empirical research demonstrated its success, EMDR sounded weird and slightly unbelievable, and my inner skeptic wanted none of it.

A year and a half later I stumbled upon EMDR again and this time I was ready. I was sick of feeling stuck and decided I had nothing to lose, so I pushed my skeptic aside and tried it. After trying it, I realized I could only understand EMDR’s power and benefits from direct experience. I felt such a shift after my first session and was so excited by it, that I decided to become trained in it, so I could offer its healing benefits with many others.

How many sessions do I need?

For a single event issue, 1-3 sessions is usually sufficient. However, more complex issues may take more sessions, usually up to 6. However, there is no hard and fast rule.

 

I’d like to try EMDR, how can I do that?

I offer EMDR in conjunction with psychotherapy for my ongoing clients, and for other clients of Well Clinic practitioners who would like to try it out. If you are not my client, please speak to your therapist or practitioner about setting up a session.

Want to learn more about EMDR?

You can read more about EMDR. And make sure to check out the research! Here are several helpful websites:

www.emdr.com

www.emdria.org

www.emdrinfo.com
EMDR therapy in San Francisco

About the Author

Julia Barker is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. Her practice involves a mind, body, heart and spirit approach to healing, incorporating a blend of Western psychological thought and scientific research with Eastern spirituality and wisdom traditions.

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