EMDR - a way to help in tough situations

Questions and Answers About EMDR for Clients

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a medication-free, non-hypnotic psychotherapeutic procedure. The therapist guides the client in concentrating on a troubling memory or emotion while moving the eyes back and forth by following the therapist's fingers. This eye movement (as well as tactile and auditory stimulation) seems to jump start the brain's ability to process dysfunctional memory information, something that happens naturally during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep.

What is it used for?

EMDR is used to treat the causes of troubling symptoms such as anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and posttraumatic reactions. It can also be used to build up positive resources and to learn more adaptive information and skills.

What happens in a session?

EMDR is different for each person because each person's history (biography) and psychological/physiological makeup (biology) is unique. EMDR is also based on the client's innate ability to self-heal and is, therefore, very client-centered. Sometimes past issues or memories related to or even causing present difficulties arise unexpectedly and will be treated with EMDR. Sometimes a painful memory brings up unpleasant emotions or body sensations. This is normal and generally passes within a few minutes, as long as the EMDR is not stopped. The upsetting (unfinished) experience usually fades and loses its potency.

Why deal with painful memories?

When painful events occur and our processing of them is not complete, they remain buried, but buried alive. They keep their disturbing power, which can be triggered by present events and stimuli. Flashbacks and nightmares are examples of this unfinished business. In EMDR therapy, you can face and desensitize the memory in a safe setting, learn from it (reprocessing), and move on.

Will I be in control?

What kind of thoughts, feelings, body sensations or images will arise during a session depends very much on the individual's healing process. In any case, the client is always in charge of the pacing and of deciding whether to take a break, continue or stop. The client can also decide how much, if anything, to tell the therapist about his/her experience (clients are typically silent during processing, primarily just noticing internal shifts and changes, relating this to the therapist in between "sets" of reprocessing). The therapist is a guide, something of a midwife, there to help the client to stay on track and to encourage and support the client in working through any difficult experiences.

Are there any precautions?

It is very important that the therapist be formally trained in EMDR as well as in the problem area the client is addressing. EMDR is not a therapeutic magic wand, but must be seen as part of a larger therapeutic context. Also, since EMDR is more of an experiential therapy rather than a verbal, "talking about" approach, any serious medical or psychological conditions must be addressed at the start.

What happens afterwards?

Clients may continue to process the material spontaneously, but at a slower rate, in between sessions, sometimes having new insights, vivid dreams or strong feelings. This is the natural healing process continuing and should be reported to the therapist at the next session (or sooner if processing feels too intense). In the long run, however, clients most often feel a relief of symptoms, as well as a previously unimagined freedom from painful conditions and negative self images.