Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that was specifically developed to alleviate distress associated with traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989). An underlying premise is that the brain does not want to be distressed. It organically moves toward being positive and neutral. However, to do so, the limbic system, which is activated during distress, must be calmed so the rest of the brain can perform its natural functions to adequately process a traumatic event.

 

The limbic system is soothed through the use of Bilateral Stimulation (BLS).

Modes of BLS include:

  • Visual:

    • Following a light bar or finger movement with your eyes

  • Auditory:

    • Listening to alternating tones with headphones

  • Tactile:

    • Feeling alternating vibration through hand pulsers or knee tapping

 

The Process of EMDR Therapy:

  • EMDR therapy consists of eight phases. In addition to using BLS, EMDR therapy also involves obtaining a thorough clinical history, ensuring clients have adequate coping skills, and developing a treatment plan. 

  • After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, the client is asked to hold different aspects of the event in mind while using BLS.

  • Successful EMDR therapy results in the distress level of the trauma being alleviated, and the meaning of the event has been transformed on an emotional and cognitive level. For instance, someone who was sexually assaulted may shift from feeling terrified to feeling safe.

  • In addition, the client no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is recalled. The event is still remembered, but it is less upsetting.

  • Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy does not come from the clinician’s interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes.

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Certified EMDR Therapist

I completed my basic training, for EMDR therapy, in 2013 and became a Certified EMDR therapist in 2015. I have used a variety of trauma-based therapies throughout my career (e.g., CPT, CBT, Exposure Therapy) and believe that EMDR is the most effective and therapeutic for clients. I have worked with hundreds of clients using EMDR therapy and have witnessed awe-inspiring changes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if EMDR is right for me?

During the first few sessions, the therapist's goal is to understand the nature of the problem. As a deeper understanding occurs, the therapist will determine if EMDR is an appropriate treatment for you. You will gain a better understanding of EMDR through discussion and all of your questions will be answered. 

 

How many sessions does EMDR take?

The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.

 

What can I expect in the EMDR sessions?

During the processing stage, you will be asked specific questions about a disturbing memory. Through the use of bilateral stimulation (your choice which type), you will hold specific aspects of the memory in your mind. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during the bilateral stimulation, which may include changes in thoughts, images, emotions, and body sensations. With repeated bilateral sets, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past.

 

For a more thorough explanation and description of EMDR therapy and research please see: emdr.com and emdria.org.

~ EMDR is not easy, but it undoubtedly changed my life. I was fresh out of residential treatment and was still experiencing frequent flashbacks and near-daily body memories.  I was chronically suicidal, unable to connect intimately, in a terrible living situation, unable to finish school, merely going through the motions in life.  I was barely surviving...nowhere near thriving. Post EMDR, something happened to me.  I haven’t had a flashback in three years and body memories are infrequent and manageable. I moved out on my own, finished school, and now I am working as an EMDR trained therapist myself. In just three short years, things could not be more different for me. This is also, in part, attributed to the quality therapist that is Dr. Jordan-Ostarch. 

~ When I first learned about EMDR, I thought it sounded pretty far-fetched.  The process as described on various websites made it sound similar to hypnosis or some new-age experimental treatment. I didn’t think there was much value in that. However, after trying many other mainstream therapies (including CBT and DBT) and not seeing meaningful results, I was ready to give EMDR a try. I am very happy to say that I have made meaningful and lasting improvements in my chronic depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I still don’t fully understand how it works, but I know firsthand that it does work. Processing traumatic events through EMDR has been the best thing to happen to me in my journey towards recovery and robust mental health.​