Updated: Feb 27
If you’ve explored different kinds of trauma therapy, you’ve probably heard of EMDR. But you may be wondering, what exactly is EMDR?
Well, EMDR is a therapeutic technique that helps people process past trauma or other stressful events, often in ways that other forms of therapy aren’t able to help. EMDR can truly be life-changing for people who have experienced trauma or extreme stress.
As an EMDR therapist, I’ve seen firsthand the incredible benefits that EMDR therapy can have. Every day, I use EMDR with clients from all walks of life and experiences, from people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to those who just want extra support resolving unprocessed memories and events. EMDR can also be used to process current events and stressors, and even upcoming future events.
Below, I’ve outlined some common questions that people may have when they’re new to EMDR. If you’re wondering if EMDR is right for you, read on to learn more.
What is EMDR?
EMDR therapy is a therapeutic technique that is designed to help people who have experienced trauma or other distressing situations. If you’ve been through traditional talk therapy before, EMDR can feel pretty different. Instead of having an open dialogue about your past experiences or working on specific skill-building, EMDR has a more specific structure, which I’ll talk more about later.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, which essentially means it’s a therapeutic technique that uses rapid eye movements to help process stressful events. Sometimes an EMDR therapist will use an assistive device to encourage you to move your eyes back and forth, such as a device where lights alternate blinking on the left and the right. Other therapists might prefer to do EMDR without special equipment and might simply ask you to watch their hand move from left to right during the EMDR session.
What does an EMDR therapist do?
EMDR usually takes place over the course of several sessions. In the first several sessions, your EMDR therapist will ask you questions to get to know you better and to understand your goals for therapy. Your EMDR therapist will also ask questions about the stressful or traumatic event(s) that you want to resolve, whether they are in the past, present, or even the future. These sessions might feel more similar to traditional talk therapy. Your EMDR therapist will also give you more information about EMDR and how the following EMDR sessions will proceed.
Next, your EMDR therapist will deliver the EMDR session. This session might be scheduled for a bit longer than a traditional talk therapy session, but they don’t usually last more than 90 minutes.
You will be asked to select a specific memory or event to focus on for the EMDR session, as well as the emotions and physical sensations you associate with that memory. Your EMDR therapist will also ask you to select a specific negative self-belief that’s associated with that memory, as well as an alternating positive belief. An example negative belief might be “I’m not good enough” and an alternating positive belief might be “I am enough.”
Next, your EMDR therapist will help you engage in the “eye movement” portion of EMDR. Like I mentioned before, your therapist might use a light or other device to encourage eye movements. Your therapist will guide you through the memory you selected, along with the emotions, beliefs, and physical sensations. Depending on your specific situation, your therapist might encourage you to do multiple EMDR sessions on the same memory or event.
Who is EMDR for?
In general, EMDR is for anyone who has experienced trauma. We often think about trauma as an easily-identifiable extreme event, like being in a bad car accident or a soldier returning for combat. Experiencing these events of extreme stress can leave lasting impacts on our bodies and minds.
But EMDR isn’t just for people who have experienced single traumatic events. We sometimes think about trauma in two different ways: there is big “T” trauma, which refers to those isolated stressful events, like experiencing physical violence or surviving a natural disaster.
There is also little “t” trauma, which refers to less extreme, but still impactful, stressful events. This might include things like going through a divorce or bad breakup, experiencing infidelity, or any experience that leaves you filled with shame or humiliation.
Whether your trauma is big “T” trauma or little “t” trauma, EMDR may be able to help you come to a place of resolution with your past experiences.
Is EMDR Right For Me?
EMDR can help anyone who has experienced extreme trauma, stress, or other situations that have caused distress. If you experience anxiety, depression, panic attacks, PTSD, body dysmorphia, intrusive thoughts, low self-esteem, addiction, or phobias, EMDR may be right for you.
Ultimately, only a therapist or other mental health practitioner can say if EMDR is right for you and your situation. If you want to learn more about how EMDR might help you, reach out to our practice to schedule an initial consultation.
Does EMDR work?
Yes, I can confidently say that EMDR does work, both as a therapist and as someone who is committed to evidence-based practices. As an EMDR therapist, I have seen EMDR help an amazingly diverse range of clients. This includes:
Individuals who have spent years, even decades in typical talk therapy and have never found true relief and healing from big “T” traumas such as incest, physical abuse and rape.
Clients who have highly specific traumas that affect their daily functioning and goals, such as a person who has experienced a car accident and now has high anxiety and panic attacks when they even think about driving a car.
People who want to have healthy, meaningful connections with their spouses, partners, friends and family but have chronically struggled with trusting others and being vulnerable.
Clients who feel hopeless and have a low view of themselves because of the way they were torn down, manipulated, and verbally abused by those who were supposed to protect and love them.
EMDR is such a unique therapy model because it connects our brain, body, feelings, thoughts, beliefs and sensations together. Because of how cohesive and flexible it is, I feel very fortunate to have utilized and witnessed EMDR help all kinds of people with a vast array of difficulties and backgrounds.
Outside of my own observations as an EMDR therapist, many researchers have also studied the impacts of EMDR. Research has shown that EMDR can help reduce symptoms for people with PTSD, including experiencing less psychological distress and unwanted thoughts. EMDR also works for people who have other kinds of stress and trauma outside of PTSD, including anxiety and depression.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many therapists looked for ways to deliver EMDR remotely through teletherapy sessions. Resarchers have found that these teletherapy EMDR sessions are just as impactful in helping people experience less distress and anxiety. I am able to provide EMDR both in person as well as via telehealth sessions.
Where can I find EMDR therapy near me?
If you’re wondering “Where can I find EMDR therapy near me?” there are a few places you can try. As an EMDR therapist, I work with clients in the Southwestern Pennsylvania area and across the state through in-person and virtual teletherapy sessions. If you live outside of Pennsylvania, I recommend searching on Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist site.
If you’re ready to get started with EMDR or have more questions, reach out to me to schedule an initial consultation. I would be honored to partner with you on your therapy journey.