The information below has been adapted from the EMDR International Association, EMDR Institute, and EMDR Association of Canada.

What is EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach that contains elements of many effective psychotherapies including psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.

EMDR psychotherapy is an information processing therapy that addresses the experiential contributors of a wide range of psychological symptoms, difficulties and pathologies. It attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for pathology, the current situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health.

It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. With EMDR many people find relief rapidly. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can causes intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

Evidence Based Effective Therapy

Twenty positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR, and it is recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the US Department of Defense. Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, you can easily see how EMDR would be effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy. Over 70,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy.  Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 20 years.

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment.  Eye movements or other bilateral stimulation, are used during one part of the session.  After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, she asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision.  As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level.  For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived it and I am strong.”  Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes.  The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them.  Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution—all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies.

For Further Information refer to:

EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) offers an excellent set of pages of information about EMDR. The leading EMDR clinicians and researchers have prepared answers to the following questions:

  • What is EMDR?
  • How Was EMDR Developed?
  • How Does EMDR Work?
  • How is EMDR Used in Therapy?
  • What is an EMDR Session Like?
  • What is the Research Evidence for EMDR?

The EMDR Institute similarly provides authoritative information prepared by clinicians who have developed, refined, researched, and taught EMDR practice for many years. Particularly useful are the answers provided to “Commonly asked questions” on the FAQ page.


EMDR Association of Canada

EMDR Institute

EMDR International Association