What is EMDR therapy?

What is EMDR therapy?

About 5% of adults in the U.S. experience post traumatic stress disorder each year. The percentage of the population who have lived through a traumatic experience in their lifetime is much higher, with around 60% of men and 50% of women, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Treatment can be difficult, but a doctor might recommend a therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which uses your eyes to try to help.

“EMDR therapy is a growing treatment option used to combat PTSD and many other mental health conditions,” says Melissa Argall, a psychotherapist at Aurora Health Care.

Some common conditions it treats include depression, anxiety and addiction.

How does it work?

Your mental health provider will begin EMDR therapy by reviewing your history and any other information that may help when addressing your traumatic experiences.

“You will work together to come up with coping mechanisms to combat stress that may occur in everyday circumstances,” says Argall. “Deep breathing and mindfulness are common techniques practiced during therapy.”

During your sessions, your provider will ask you to recall aspects of your traumatic experiences. It’s important to not only identify the traumatic event, but the physical and emotional reactions triggered by the memory.

Bilateral stimulation

While you are focusing on the negative memory, your provider will ask you to move your eyes back and forth, bilaterally, while also possibly tapping on your hands or holding a devise that pulsates in sync.

Bilateral stimulation is the core component of EMDR therapy. “By focusing on the memory and the external stimuli of the tasks, the brain alternates between sides and promotes emotional processing,” says Argall.

Clearing your mind

After the stimulation is complete, your provider will ask you to clear your mind and focus on your thoughts and feelings in that moment. Once you recognize your thoughts, it’s time to refocus or move on to another memory.


EMDR is an effective trauma therapy and patients can experience relief from traumatic memories in as little as one reprocessing session. However, every individual is different, and some patients require more extensive work with EMDR and several sessions. At the end of each session, you will be asked to evaluate your progress.

“As you continue with EMDR therapy, the associated pain and stress tends to fade over time,” Argall says.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.