What is EMDR Therapy, How Does it Work, and is it Effective? Thumbnail

EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a treatment for conditions involving traumatic memories.

When dealing with trauma, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health conditions, therapy can be highly beneficial for reducing symptoms and helping individuals regain control of their life.

While traditional talk therapy can be extremely successful in treating a variety of mental health conditions, other therapeutic approaches can also be effective.

One method of treating psychological distress is EMDR therapy, also known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. While EMDR therapy may differ from conventional therapy, it has consistently delivered impressive results.

EMDR therapy helps transform the way people perceive trauma, reduce negative trauma responses, and teach coping strategies for moving forward in life. If expressing your thoughts and emotions is difficult after a traumatic experience, EMDR therapy may be a great option to consider.

What is EMDR therapy?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, also known as EMDR, is a therapy method used to treat a variety of mental health disorders. In this method, the patient is instructed to move their eyes in a particular pattern as they process traumatic memories.

The goal of EMDR is to help individuals replace negative thoughts and emotions associated with trauma, allowing them to move past the distressing life experience and live a more fulfilling life.

EMDR is relatively new compared to other therapy methods. Since the first clinical trial in 1989, this technique has proven effective and may help a person faster than other treatment methods.

Who is a candidate for EMDR therapy?

While EMDR is primarily used to treat people with overwhelming traumatic memories and post-traumatic stress disorder, it can also be used to treat a variety of other mental health disorders.

These conditions may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorders
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Gender dysphoria
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse

Since EMDR is a safe and relatively comfortable form of therapy, it can be used to treat adolescents, adults, and in some cases, children. Men and women can both benefit from this technique. EMDR may also be especially helpful for people who have difficulty talking about their traumatic experiences.

What is the purpose of this treatment?

The goal of EMDR therapy is to change the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors resulting from a distressing experience. EMDR does not remove the memory; it changes how it is stored in the brain.

As a result, traumatic memories become less vivid, allowing your mind to heal easier. Some key components of EMDR include stabilizing exercises, visualization, resource development, cognitive retraining, and bilateral stimulation.

During this treatment, a person's brain reprocesses the memory, reducing discomfort and replacing it with positive thoughts and emotions.

What does EMDR therapy involve?

EMDR consists of eight treatment phases lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. Depending on the severity of the trauma, some steps may take longer than others. Treatments typically occur over multiple sessions, sometimes combining phases in one session.

Patient History

In this step, your mental health provider will gather a complete history and conduct assessments to determine if EMDR therapy is the appropriate course of treatment.

You and your therapist will discuss traumatic events and memories affecting you. If they feel you are a good candidate for this treatment, you will go over your goals for treatment.

Client Preparation

During the preparation phase, your healthcare provider will review what to expect during EMDR sessions. You will also learn trauma processing techniques to use during and between sessions.

Before starting an EMDR session, your therapist will make sure you have tools for dealing with uncomfortable emotions that may arise.


In the assessment phase, your mental health provider helps you identify specific memories, associated beliefs, and negative emotional responses to work on during treatment.

They will also help you identify positive ideas you would like to have about yourself and your memory in the future.


During this stage, your therapist will help activate a specific memory's negative images, thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. While activating the traumatic memory, your therapist will walk you through sets of bilateral stimulation.

Eye movements, taps, or tones may be used depending on the set. This process stimulates both hemispheres of the brain and is believed to be soothing in many ways. The process continues until you no longer experience a triggering reaction to the memory.


During installation, you will work on replacing negative thoughts and emotions with positive ones. This phase doesn't erase the memory, just the traumatic response associated with the memory. When the memory is brought up in the future, it should feel less distressing.

Body Scan

During this stage, your bodily sensations are assessed while thinking about the negative memory. This helps your therapist determine how well you are progressing through EMDR therapy.

Since our traumatic memories are also stored as sensations in our bodies, this phase is very important. If you discover unresolved tension in the body, your therapist will target it for further treatment.


During closure, your therapist will implement recovery techniques to help you feel more relaxed after experiencing traumatic memories. You will be asked to write down any thoughts or emotions throughout the week, and you will be reminded of the self-soothing techniques you learned during your session.


The final stage of EMDR therapy involves your mental health provider reviewing your progress and how you're doing now. This can help determine whether or not you need additional sessions or whether to adjust your therapy goals.

Additionally, you will learn what you might encounter in the future and how to handle it.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of EMDR?

EMDR therapy can be very beneficial for people suffering from trauma, PTSD, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. Even without a diagnosed mental health disorder, EMDR can be helpful in treating negative thought patterns or low self-esteem.

Some of the most notable benefits of EMDR therapy include:

  • Highly effective for treating trauma and PTSD
  • It may work faster than other forms of therapy
  • Little talking is required
  • Reduces distressing emotions and negative thought patterns
  • Improves self-perception
  • Less homework involved
  • Less stressful than other techniques

EMDR therapy is a safe and effective treatment option that offers many benefits. However, there may be some disadvantages when compared to other therapeutic approaches.

EMDR may not work well for individuals with genetic conditions, brain injuries, or other physical conditions

Researchers are not entirely sure why this method works

Experts need to conduct more research to determine whether EMDR has long-term benefits or if people will require additional therapy in the future

What is the recovery time from EMDR?

With EMDR therapy, there is typically minimal recovery time between sessions. You may feel tired or encounter difficult emotions that arise. Your therapist can guide you on how to care for yourself between sessions.

You may also be given homework to document any feelings or physical sensations that come to the surface. After EMDR therapy is completed, most people experience significant relief.

Even if a traumatic memory resurfaces, the emotional and physical impact will be less. It is very rare to experience a relapse of an intense emotional response.

Can EMDR have risks or complications?

While EMDR therapy has no major side effects, patients may experience emotional distress between sessions when recovering from their treatment. However, these emotions are temporary, and their therapist can provide coping strategies to manage any symptoms between sessions.

Because EMDR has few side effects, this therapy can work well for individuals suffering from extreme emotional distress who may struggle to speak to a therapist during conventional therapeutic approaches. In addition, EMDR can effectively be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment.

EMDR Therapy with CHE

After experiencing trauma, it may seem impossible to escape negative thinking and move past difficult memories. If not addressed, emotions and thoughts from traumatic events can affect a person's ability to function in everyday life.

However, with EMDR therapy, individuals can change how they perceive and respond to trauma, allowing them to move forward with greater peace of mind.

At CHE Behavioral Health Services, we offer EMDR therapy for the treatment of trauma, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.

Our experienced mental health providers can help you develop new ways of thinking to improve your quality of life. You deserve to heal and reclaim your life. When you're ready, our team is here to help.

To learn more about EMDR treatment at CHE Behavioral Health Services, please call 888-515-3834. We are ready to talk, and ready to listen.