By Haneen Ahmad

Imagine this. You have past trauma you want gone. I can’t make it disappear but I can make it a hell of a lot less triggering. You probably want to do away with the anxiety and depression that may be a byproduct of that experience also.


That is your answer. EMDR is a treatment modality used by therapists to help clients reprocess traumatic memories/triggers.

So what is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro. Memories associated with adverse life experiences may remain unprocessed because of the high level of disturbance experienced at the time of the event. The stored memory may be linked to emotions, negative cognitions, and physical sensations experienced during the event and the unprocessed memory can affect the way a person responds to subsequent similar adverse experiences.

EMDR uses eye movements, hand tapping, and/or audio stimulation to reprocess and unblock these memories so they become more coherent and less disruptive. This allows you to “reprogram your brain” to begin to heal from the fear and pain associated with trauma and emotional distress. Pretty neat huh?! After all the mind is a powerful thing.

What to expect in session

In the early stages of EMDR therapy, you will explore your problems and symptoms with your therapist, but you won’t necessarily have to reveal all the details of your traumatic experience(s). Your therapist will help you focus on related negative thoughts and feelings that you are still experiencing, and decide which of these beliefs are still relevant and which ones you would like to replace with positive thoughts and beliefs.

Your therapist will guide you through a process known as desensitization. While keeping the memory of a painful or traumatic event in mind, you will engage in bilateral stimulation (BLS likely being that you will follow your therapist’s back-and-forth finger movements with your eyes). The purpose of this technique is to help you fully process your negative feelings and begin to recognize that you no longer need to hold on to some of them.

In future sessions you will reinforce and strengthen positive feelings and beliefs until you get to a point where you can bring up memories of the traumatic event without experiencing the negativity that brought you to therapy in the first place. Mind blown. Mic dropped.

EMDR therapy occurs in eight phases:

1) History and treatment planning
2) Preparation, to establish trust and explain the treatment in-depth
3) Assessment, to establish negative feelings and identify positive replacements
4) Desensitization, which includes the eye movement technique
5) Installation, to strengthen positive replacements
6) Body scan, to see if the client is now able to bring up memories of trauma without experiencing negative feelings that are no longer relevant, or if reprocessing is necessary
7) Closure, which occurs at the end of every session
8) Re-evaluation, which occurs at the beginning of every session

The goal of EMDR is to fully process past experiences and sort out the emotions attached to those experiences. Negative thoughts and feelings are replaced with positive thoughts and feelings that will encourage healthier behavior and social interactions. All this leaves you feeling calmer, less triggered, and gives you a sense of control again.

EMDR trained therapist,

Things to note:

– If you have any challenges with your vision or have epilepsy please talk to your therapist about this and get cleared by a doctor to proceed with EMDR.
– It is not uncommon for individuals to feel tired and want to go home and nap after an EMDR session.
– You may notice changes in your dreams/dream patterns.
– The client may also notice that they have new insights regarding their trauma.
– Do not plan and EMDR session on your lunch break or around the timing of major event as it may initially stir up things for you. Do plan to have your session at the end of the day or at a time where you can care for yourself easily afterward and perhaps rest.

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