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Behavioral Health: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a one-on-one form of therapy that is designed to reduce trauma-related stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to improve overall mental health functioning. The theory behind EMDR is that many psychological difficulties are the result of distressing life experiences which have not been stored in the memory properly and are said to be unprocessed or blocked. These traumatic memories may need some help to become processed, and EMDR is one way to do this. 

Who is EMDR for?

EMDR is for any adult who suffers from trauma-related stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What happens during EMDR?

Some traumatic events, such as accidents, abuse, disasters, or violence, are so overwhelming that the brain does not do its job properly. When this happens memories are stored in their raw, unprocessed form. These trauma memories are easily triggered, leading them to replay and cause distress over and again. 

In EMDR, you are asked to pay attention to your memory from one side to another. One way to pay attention from left to right is to follow the therapist’s finger as they move it from side-to-side in your line of vision. Alternative versions of EMDR ask you to pay attention to sounds or tapping sensations which occur in sequence from left to right. 

This side-to-side motion is called bilateral stimulation. It has been found to enhance memory processing. There are a number of theories explaining how it might do this. The important thing is to be able to find a form of bilateral stimulation that you are comfortable with. 

How effective is EMDR?

Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post-traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in the treatment of the following conditions: 
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse

  • Panic attacks

  • Complicated grief

  • Addictions

  • Disturbing memories

  • Phobias

  • Eating disorders

  • Stress reduction

  • Performance anxiety

  • Pain disorders

Find more information about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) by visiting the EMDR Institute's website.


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