Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful therapy technique used to treat anxiety, depression, trauma, and more. When we experience trauma, our mind and body are flooded with fear, leaving us feeling unsafe and out of control. This often results in traumatic memories resurfacing as flashbacks, nightmares, and a general sense of uneasiness. EMDR therapy harnesses the natural healing power of the brain to reprocess these incidents and move towards adaptive resolution and deep healing.
Common Symptoms Treated
What is EMDR Therapy?
So, what exactly is EMDR therapy? Well, it’s a form of therapy commonly used for treating trauma. By focusing on the images, emotions, sensations, and thoughts associated with trauma, EMDR facilitates mental adaptation and recovery. The controlled re-exposure in a safe and supportive environment allows the brain to process the trauma and gradually heal.
The difference between EMDR Therapy and other therapies.
One of the significant differences between EMDR therapy and other therapies is that it does not necessarily require extensive discussion of the distressing issue or assignments outside the therapy session. Rather than trying to change the resulting emotions, thoughts, or behaviors related to unpleasant topics, EMDR therapy taps into the brain’s natural healing process. This healing journey takes place within the therapy session, meaning you don’t have to do anything outside the therapy room.
Receiving therapy for Trauma can offer the following:
Reported benefits of EMDR Therapy.
The reported benefits of EMDR therapy are astounding. It has been extensively researched and proven to effectively treat trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, it’s reported that 90% of people who complete EMDR sessions no longer struggle severely with their PTSD symptoms.
Here at Panahi Counseling, we combine EMDR therapy with other appropriate treatment approaches tailored to meet your unique needs. We understand that you may have reservations about revisiting your traumatic experiences during therapy, and that’s why we approach each session with utmost care and consideration.
Our top priority is to create a safe and calming environment during our initial phase of therapy. In cases where the EMDR approach may not be suitable, we are well-equipped to incorporate other effective therapy techniques to meet your specific situation. Client often reports several change in their mental health including but not limited to:
What to expect when starting EMDR Therapy.
It’s common to feel hesitant about revisiting a traumatic experience in therapy. Who would want to remember such events, after all? Rest assured that we approach your experience with utmost care and consideration. Our primary focus in the initial phase of therapy is to create a safe and calming environment. In case the EMDR approach isn’t suitable for your situation, we may utilize other therapy techniques.
Beginning EMDR therapy can be overwhelming, but your therapist will guide you through each stage of the treatment, addressing any questions you may have. In essence, EMDR therapy comprises eight stages aimed at establishing safety, gathering your history, developing coping tools, and processing traumatic memories. By undergoing EMDR therapy, most people report a shift in how you view yourself and your trauma, moving away from shame and negativity towards more positive perspectives.
Get started with therapy today.
Get matched with one of our therapists who fits your needs and preferences.
Attend your session at your own pace. Experience in-person or online therapy.
Want help finding a therapist?
Schedule a 15-minute conversation with our Client Care Coordinator.
EMDR focuses on the brain’s ability to constantly learn, taking past experiences, and updating them with present information.
- Adaptive learning is constantly updating memory network systems.
- Past emotionally-charged experiences often interfere with your updating process.
- EMDR breaks through that interference and helps let go of the past and update your experiences to a healthier present perspective.
- EMDR uses a set of procedures to organize your negative and positive feelings, emotions, and thoughts, and then uses bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or alternating tapping, as the way to help you effectively work through those disturbing memories.
No, it is not necessary to talk about all
the details of your experiences for them to be processed.
Yes, you may. Emotions and sensations may come up during processing; although, you will be prepared and your therapist will help you safely manage them. Once they are processed, they rarely come back!
No. During EMDR processing, you are present and fully in control.
Given the infancy of the field of neurobiology, the physiological foundations of all psychotherapies are currently unknown, and therefore, all neurobiological models of psychotherapy are speculative. Testing of hypotheses about the neurological mechanisms of any form of psychotherapy and most pharmaceuticals awaits the development of advanced brain imaging techniques. Hypotheses concerning EMDR therapy’s neurobiological mechanisms are, at this time, purely speculative.
Rauch, van der Kolk, and colleagues (1996) conducted positron emission studies of patients with PTSD in which they were exposed to vivid, detailed narratives which they had written about their own traumatic experiences. Patients showed heightened activity only in the right hemisphere, in the areas most involved in emotional arousal, and heightened activity on the right visual cortex, reflecting the flashbacks reported by these patients. Perhaps most significantly, Broca’s area – the part of the left hemisphere responsible for translating personal experiences into communicable language -“turned off”. These findings indicate that PTSD symptoms are reflected in actual changes in brain activity.
Case study research by van der Kolk and colleagues (Levin, Lazrove, & van der Kolk, 1999; van der Kolk, Burbridge, & Suzuki, 1997; Zoler, 1998) has provided some preliminary evidence that changes in brain activation patterns may follow effective treatment. SPECT scans were administered pre and post-EMDR for 6 PTSD subjects who each received 3 EMDR sessions. The Zoler article has photos of pre and post SPECT scans. Findings indicated metabolic changes after EMDR in two specific brain regions. First, there was an increase in bilateral activity of the anterior cyngulate. This area moderates the experience of real versus perceived threat, indicating that after EMDR, PTSD sufferers may no longer be hypervigilant. Second, there appeared to be an increase in pre-frontal lobe metabolism. An increase in frontal lobe functioning may indicate improvement in the ability to make sense of incoming sensory stimulation. Levin et al. concluded that EMDR appeared to facilitate information processing. Because there was no control group, there is no evidence that these effects were unique to EMDR; effective treatment of any kind may produce similar results.
Lansing, K., Amen, D.G., Hanks, C. & Rudy, L. (2005) reported that pre- post treatment SPECT scans indicated a decrease in anterior cingulate, basal ganglia and deep limbic activity. The 12th chapter of Shapiro’s (2001) text details some related recent neurological research and explains the possible relevance of these findings to EMDR. Also of interest is an article by Stickgold (2002), a sleep researcher, who has developed a theory to explain the effects of EMDR’s alternating, bilateral stimulation which forces the client to constantly shift his or her attention across the midline. He proposed that REM-like neurobiological mechanisms are facilitated by this shifting attention, resulting in the activation of episodic memories, and their integration into cortical semantic memory. Independent research by Christman, S. D., Garvey, K. J., Propper, R. E., & Phaneuf, K. A. (2003) provides some support for this theory. They determined that alternating leftward and rightward eye movements produced a beneficial effect for episodic, but not semantic, retrieval memory tasks. See also Kuiken et al., 2002, 2010 (Research Overview). All psychophysiological studies have indicated significant de-arousal. Neurobiological studies have indicated significant effects, including changes in cortical, and limbic activation patterns, and increase in hippocampal volume.
Aubert-Khalfa, S., Roques, J. & Blin, O. (2008). Evidence of a decrease in heart rate and skin conductance responses in PTSD patients after a single EMDR session. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2, 51-56.
Bossini L. Fagiolini, A. & Castrogiovanni, P. (2007). Neuroanatomical changes after EMDR in posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 19, 457-458.
Bossini, L., Tavanti, M., Calossi, S., Polizzotto, N. R., Vatti, G., Marino, D., & Castrogiovanni, P. (2011). EMDR treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, with focus on hippocampal volumes: A pilot study. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 23, E1-2. doi:10.1176/appi. neuropsych.23.2.E1
Frustaci, A., Lanza, G.A., Fernandez, I., di Giannantonio, M. & Pozzi, G. (2010). Changes in psychological symptoms and heart rate variability during EMDR treatment: A case series of subthreshold PTSD. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 4, 3-11.
Grbesa et al. (2010). Electrophysiological changes during EMDR treatment in patients with combat-related PTSD. Annals of General Psychiatry 9 (Suppl 1):S209.
Harper, M. L., Rasolkhani-Kalhorn, T., & Drozd, J. F. (2009). On the neural basis of EMDR therapy: Insights from qeeg studies. Traumatology, 15, 81-95.
Kowal, J. A. (2005). QEEG analysis of treating PTSD and bulimia nervosa using EMDR. Journal of Neurotherapy, 9 (Part 4), 114-115.
Lamprecht, F., Kohnke, C., Lempa, W., Sack, M., Matzke, M., & Munte, T. (2004). Event-related potentials and EMDR treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuroscience Research, 49, 267-272.
Landin-Romero, R., et al. (2013). EMDR therapy modulates the default mode network in a subsyndromal, traumatized bipolar patient. Neuropsychobiology, 67, 181-184.
Lansing, K., Amen, D.G., Hanks, C. & Rudy, L. (2005). High resolution brain SPECT imaging and EMDR in police officers with PTSD. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 17, 526-532.
Levin, P., Lazrove, S., & van der Kolk, B. A. (1999). What psychological testing and neuroimaging tell us about the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 13, 159-172.
Nardo D et al. (2010). Gray matter density in limbic and paralimbic cortices is associated with trauma load and EMDR outcome in PTSD patients. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 44, 477-485.
Oh, D.-H., & Choi, J. (2004). Changes in the regional cerebral perfusion after eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A SPECT study of two cases. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 1, 24-30.
Ohta ni, T., Matsuo, K., Kasai, K., Kato, T., & Kato, N. (2009). Hemodynamic responses of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in posttraumatic stress disorder. Neuroscience Research, 65, 375–383.
Pagani, M. et al. (2007). Effects of EMDR psychotherapy on 99mTc-HMPAO distribution in occupation-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Nuclear Medicine Communications, 28, 757–765.
EMDR, as with all treatment approaches, will help you accomplish your treatment goals.
The length of time that it takes is dependent upon the complexity of your problems.
Frequently, EMDR is only one of several treatment approaches that will be used to help you reach your treatment goals.
You have come to treatment expressing concerns.
Your therapist will help you understand the dynamics of the presenting concerns and how to adaptively manage them.
An overall treatment plan will be developed that will accomplish your goals.
Within that treatment plan, EMDR, along with other therapy approaches, will be used to accomplish your treatment goals.
- You will be asked a set of questions to access and activate the negative experience and the desired adaptive resolution.
- Sets of rapid eye movement (or other forms of bilateral stimulation) will be applied.
You will be encouraged to just “free associate” and allow the brain to work through the experience.
Sets of eye movements will be alternated with brief reports about what you are experiencing.
EMDR processing will continue until the past experience has been updated to an adaptive present perspective.
- With long standing issues, this process may take multiple sessions.
No. When Shapiro (1989a) first introduced EMDR therapy into the professional literature, she included the following caveat: “It must be emphasized that the EMD procedure, as presented here, serves to desensitize the anxiety related to traumatic memories, not to eliminate all PTSD-symptomology and complications, nor to provide coping strategies to victims” (p 221). In this first study, the focus was on one memory, with effects measured by changes in the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) scale. The literature consistently reports similar effects for EMDR with SUD measures of in-session anxiety. Since that time, EMDR therapy has evolved into an integrative approach that addresses the full clinical picture. Two studies (Lee, Gavriel, Drummond, Richards, & Greenwald, 2002; Rothbaum, 1997) have indicated an elimination of diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 83-90% of civilian participants after four to seven sessions. Other studies using participants with PTSD (e.g. Ironson, Freund, Strauss, & Williams, 2002; Scheck, Schaeffer, & Gillette, 1998; S. A. Wilson, Becker, & Tinker, 1995) have found significant decreases in a wide range of symptoms after three-four sessions. The only randomized study (Carlson, Chemtob, Rusnak, Hedlund, & Muraoka, 1998) of combat veterans to address the multiple traumas of this population reported that 12 sessions of treatment resulted in a 77% elimination of PTSD. Clients with multiple traumas and/or complex histories of childhood abuse, neglect, and poor attachment may require more extensive therapy, including substantial preparatory work in phase two of EMDR (Korn & Leeds, 2002; Maxfield & Hyer, 2002; Shapiro, 2001, 2018).
Although eye movements are often considered its most distinctive element, EMDR therapy is not a simple procedure dominated by the use of eye movements. It is a complex psychotherapy, containing numerous components that are considered to contribute to treatment effects. Eye movements are used to engage the client’s attention to an external stimulus, while the client is simultaneously focusing on internal distressing material. Shapiro describes eye movements as “dual attention stimuli,” to identify the process in which the client attends to both external and internal stimuli. Therapist directed eye movements are the most commonly used dual attention stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and auditory stimulation are often used. The use of such alternate stimuli has been an integral part of the EMDR protocol for more than 10 years (Shapiro 1991, 1993).
As with any form of psychotherapy, there may be a temporary increase in distress.
- distressing and unresolved memories may emerge
- some clients may experience reactions during a treatment session that neither they nor the administering clinician may have anticipated, including a high level of emotion or physical sensations
- subsequent to the treatment session, the processing of incidents/material may continue, and other dreams, memories feelings, etc., may emerge.
Our office is located in 128 S County Farm Rd, Suite C, Wheaton Illinois 60187. Clients requesting for EMDR session is encouraged to meet in-person to experience the full benefits of EMDR therapy.