EMDR Therapy: An Essential Guide

Navigating the world of mental health can sometimes feel like traversing a labyrinth. Amidst an array of therapeutic approaches, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy stands out. But what is EMDR therapy? How does it work? And, importantly, how can it aid those grappling with trauma? Let’s delve into these questions in this comprehensive guide on EMDR therapy.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is a distinctive and innovative form of psychotherapy that’s used to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, EMDR utilizes a patient’s rapid, rhythmic eye movements to lessen the intensity of emotionally-charged recollections of past traumatic events.


  1. As of 2020, EMDR therapy was available in over 70 countries and translated into over 20 languages (World Health Organization, 2020).
  2. There are over 100,000 trained EMDR clinicians worldwide (EMDR International Association, 2020).

What Is EMDR Therapy Used For?

Primarily, EMDR therapy is used for treating individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research indicates that EMDR is effective in treating PTSD and has been recommended by the World Health Organization for adults with PTSD. However, its application isn’t limited to this condition alone. EMDR therapy is used for a variety of mental health issues, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Addictions


  1. Approximately 80% of victims with a single trauma no longer had PTSD after about three to four 90-minute sessions of EMDR therapy (EMDR Institute, Inc., 2021).
  2. It’s estimated that 60% of combat veterans found relief from PTSD symptoms after using EMDR therapy (Russell et al., 2007).

What Does EMDR Therapy Do?

EMDR therapy is designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. It changes the way these memories are stored in the brain, making them less vivid and less distressing. This therapy works on the premise that the mind can heal from psychological trauma in the same way the body heals from physical trauma.


  1. About 70-90% of patients who received EMDR therapy no longer met PTSD criteria after approximately three 90-minute sessions (Shapiro, 1989).
  2. EMDR therapy has an efficacy rate of 77-90% for victims of rape trauma after three 90-minute sessions (Shapiro, 1994).

What Is EMDR Therapy Like?

EMDR therapy can be a unique and even unfamiliar experience for many. Typically, a session begins with the therapist asking the patient to recall a traumatic event. As the patient brings forth these memories, the therapist directs them to perform specific eye movements. These movements are believed to stimulate the brain’s information-processing systems and facilitate emotional healing.

The Phases of EMDR

EMDR therapy follows an eight-phase approach:

  1. History and treatment planning
  2. Preparation
  3. Assessment
  4. Desensitization
  5. Installation
  6. Body scan
  7. Closure
  8. Reevaluation

Each phase serves a specific purpose, contributing to the overall efficacy of the therapy.

Advantages of EMDR

There are several advantages of EMDR therapy, which include:

  • It is a well-researched therapy with effectiveness demonstrated in numerous clinical trials.
  • It provides a non-invasive method for treating trauma-related disorders.
  • Unlike other therapies, EMDR doesn’t require extensive and detailed descriptions of the trauma, long-term therapy, or homework.

Disadvantages of EMDR

Despite its benefits, there are some disadvantages to EMDR therapy:

  • Some patients may experience an increase in distressing dreams or memories after the treatment.
  • It might not be suitable for individuals with certain physical health conditions or severe mental health disorders.
  • More research is needed to fully understand why EMDR works and how it could be improved.


In conclusion, EMDR therapy is a potent tool for treating trauma-related conditions. Its emphasis on non-verbal recall and bilateral stimulation sets it apart from traditional talk therapies. Though it might not be the right fit for everyone, it has proven to be a lifeline for many suffering from the debilitating effects of traumatic experiences.


  1. EMDR Institute, Inc. (2021). What is EMDR? 
  2. EMDR International Association (2020). EMDR Research. 
  3. Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., Milanak, M. E., Miller, M. W., Keyes, K. M., & Friedman, M. J. (2013). National Estimates of Exposure to Traumatic Events and PTSD Prevalence, 26(5), 537-547.
  4. Russell, M. C., Figley, C. R., & Robertson, M. (2015). Investigating treatment choice preference of war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 31, 100-107.
  5. Shapiro, F. (1999). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Clinical and research implications of an integrated psychotherapy treatment. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 13(1-2), 35-67.
  6. World Health Organization (2020). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): An innovative clinical treatment.

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