What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and is a revolutionary therapy for trauma and various other types of emotional distress.
EMDR follows an eight-step protocol involving a series of specific eye movements done by a highly trained practitioner that results in the correction of ill-stored memory networks within the brain in order to form a more adaptive processed state. The result is an elimination of emotional distress, typically accompanied by the gaining of powerful insights often described as epiphanies, and the spontaneous change of the client’s personal experience and behaviour for the better.
No homework is required on the part of the client with EMDR and drastic change and enormous positive shifts are often reported following each session, with the total therapy often requiring far fewer sessions than all other conventional therapies.
How effective is EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy is one of the most scientifically studied and best proven therapies in the world, with over 100 case studies, 30 randomized controlled trials, seven meta-analyses, and 20 non-randomized studies published in the medical and scientific literature.
EMDR has been empirically validated and recognized by:
- The World Health Organization (WHO, 2013)
- The American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2004 and 2009, listing it as an approved therapy and giving it the same top-tier status of CBT)
- The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Defence (2004, 2010)
- The French National Institute of Health (2004, 2010)
- The Northern Irish, Dutch and Swedish government regulating committees (2003)
- The Israeli National Council of Mental Health (2002)
- The United Kingdom Department of Health (2001)
- The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS, 1998, 2008)
Various studies have reported efficacy rates from 70 to 100% in as little as 3 to 6 EMDR sessions (Ironson et al., 2002; Marcus et al., 2004; wrote all Marcus et al., 1997; Rothbaum, 1997; Wilson et al, 1995). While research shows that EMDR is without a doubt a very effective and fast acting therapy, it should be noted that more sessions may be required for complex cases.
One study that compared EMDR to Prozac and trauma patients with depressive symptoms, showed that EMDR was more successful in achieving sustained reductions of PTSD and depression symptoms than Prozac. It was reported that at six month follow-up 75% of the adult-onset group achieved asymptomatic state functioning (that is no more symptoms), as compared to none of the people who received Prozac. These results were not only maintained at follow-up but the level of functioning in the group who received EMDR actually increased over those who received Prozac (Van der Kolk, 2007).
Studies show, that the results of EMDR are long-lasting and likely permanent.
For a more comprehensive list of the hundred plus studies done on EMDR please visit:
What is EMDR therapy used for?
- PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), simple and complex versions
- Trauma, “Big T” and “Small T” types
- Emotional Distress
- Panic Disorders
- Stuck Grief
- Depression and Anxiety
- Chronic Pain
- Eating Disorders
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
EMDR treats the root cause of symptoms such as:
- Frightening thoughts
- Flashbacks of a painful memory or event
- Bad dreams
- Nervous system hyperarousal
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Having difficulty sleeping or having angry outbursts
- Staying away from places, people, objects, or experiences that remind you of a bad experience
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling guilty
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling worried
- Losing interest in activities you enjoyed in the past
- Having trouble remembering a dangerous effect
How does EMDR work?
EMDR therapy follows an eight-step protocol geared towards treating the root cause of symptoms of emotional distress.
EMDR therapy is based on a foundation that the cause of emotional distress symptoms is caused by the fact that certain memories that were stored (often during childhood or during a traumatic event) under conditions of duress or during a highly emotional state were stored but not fully processed or ill-processed, causing them to remain linked with the amygdala structure in the brain (which is responsible for fear conditioning and hyperarousal), resulting in a variety of disturbing symptoms.
EMDR works by accessing and enabling correct and adaptive reprocessing of memories and triggers. This results in the total elimination or great reduction of the emotional distress symptoms.
Positive future templates are also incorporated during EMDR therapy that allow for more adaptive future functioning. Clients not only report the elimination of emotional distress but also that they have gained cognitive insights, often described as epiphanies, and report spontaneous behavioural and personal change for the better.
There has been a great number of neurophysiological studies done examining how EMDR works. For a comprehensive list of scientific studies that have been done on the neuronal (brain) mechanisms of EMDR please visit:
How many sessions are required with EMDR therapy?
Various studies have reported efficacy rates from 70 to 100% in as little as 3 to 6 EMDR sessions (Ironson et al., 2002; Marcus et al., 1997; Wilson et al, 1995; Rothbaum, 1997). While research shows that EMDR is without a doubt a very effective and fast-acting therapy, it should be noted that most often more sessions are required particularly for complex cases. It is not unusual to have therapy over the course of several weeks to months and in some cases years.
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Ironson, G., Freund, B., Strauss, J.L. & Williams, J. (2002). A comparison of two treatments for traumatic stress: A pilot study of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and prolonged exposure. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 113-128.
Marcus, S., Marquis, P., & Sakai, C. (2004). Three-and-6-month follow-up of EMDR treatment of PTSD in an HMO setting. International Journal of Stress Management, 11, 195-208.
Marcus, S., Marquis, P., & Sakai, C. (1997). Controlled study of the treatment of PTSD using EMDR in an HMO setting, Psychotherapy, 34, 307-315.
Rothbaum, B.O. (1997). A controlled study of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for post-traumatic stress disordered sexual assault victims, Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 61, 317-334.
Wilson, S.A., Becker, L.A., & Tinker, R.H. (1995). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for psychologically traumatized individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 928-937.
Van der Kolk, B., Spinazzola, Blaustein,J., Hopper, J.W., Hopper,E.K, Korn, D.I., & Simpson, W.B. (2007). A randomized clinical trial of EMDR, Fluoxetine, and pill placebo in the treatment of PTSD: Treatment effects and long-term maintenance. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68, 1-9.