By: Cindy White, LCSW

What is EMDR?

EMDR therapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the adaptive information processing (AIP) model, which suggests that our current level of resiliency and health is directly related to how past memories of adverse life events or traumas are stored in our brains. Adequately processed memories are the basis of healthy coping and adaptive responses to life stressors, and inadequately processed memories are the basis of maladaptive behaviors and beliefs, as well as overwhelming emotions and physical sensations that make it more difficult to cope with stress.

How does EMDR therapy differ from other modalities, such as traditional talk therapy?

Traditional talk therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) looks at thinking patterns that influence behaviors and works to change maladaptive belief systems in order to improve current level of functioning. EMDR therapy looks at the memory networks that seem to be driving current symptoms and distress. Once those memory networks have been identified, the information held in these networks, including distressing images, beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations are stimulated through the brain’s own information processing system. The disturbing memory can then link up to other adaptive memory network and thus become integrated as part of our personal narrative without the previously held level of distress. As these memories move to adaptive resolution, we notice healthier responses to current life stressors and a greater sense of safety, belonging, and esteem in relationships and life in general.

How long will EMDR therapy take?

One of the advantages of EMDR therapy is that it allows clients to resolve trauma more efficiently and effectively than other modalities. There are many factors that contribute to the number of sessions needed for resolution, including extent and nature of trauma, access to positive or adaptive memory networks, level of internal and external resources, and resiliency. While EMDR therapy can resolve traumatic memories rapidly, it is difficult to assess how many sessions may be needed.

I’ve been seeing my therapist for several sessions, and we haven’t started EMDR yet. Why not?

Many people equate bilateral eye movements with EMDR therapy. While eye movements are an important component of the memory reprocessing phases of EMDR therapy, they are just one piece of a robust eight-phase protocol, which includes history taking and preparation phases. From the moment you are introduced to your therapist, you are doing EMDR therapy. The preparation phase, for example, may include neurofeedback, DBT skills, or incorporating mindfulness techniques. Your therapist is trained to determine what preparation phase work with be most beneficial for you and the pace that is right for your system.

For more information on EMDR therapy, please visit emdria.org or emdr.com