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  • Kate Aronoff, MA, LPC

What is Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)?

Admittedly strange and mysterious-sounding, EMDR is an evidence-based form of integrative psychotherapy created by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987 (, 2012). After walking through the woods and thinking about a traumatic event, Shapiro realized that she felt better. She linked her relief to her eye movements darting between the trees during her walk. Now, there is a multitude of research to back up Shapiro’s theory of EMDR. It’s now being used to treat a wide variety of psychological stressors (, 2012).

But How Does It Work?
EMDR is thought to be similar to the process of the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep phase that helps us process events from each day while we sleep at night. The theory is that bothersome behaviors and emotions may be caused by bad memories that don’t get properly processed in the brain. EMDR is thought to help integrate those memories into the psyche in a more adaptive way (, 2012).

What Does a Session Look Like?
EMDR has 8 standardized phases of treatment. The first two phases take about 1-2 sessions, and involve history taking, treatment planning, and developing techniques for managing emotions (, 2012).

Phases 3-7 occur in one 50-90 min session. During these phases, there is little talking going on. To stimulate both sides of the brain, the client may follow the therapist’s fingers moving back and forth with his or her eyes, hold buzzers in each hand, or listen to headphones that alternate sounds in each ear. The client thinks about a traumatic memory and follows wherever his or her mind takes them. The client is fully awake the whole time.

Phase 8 involves checking in and following up with the client to make sure he/she is still doing well, and determine where treatment should focus in the future (, 2012).

The total number of sessions needed varies greatly. There may be many memories or issues to process. Many see results quite quickly. An EMDR session is very different from traditional psychotherapy. Although, it is often used in conjunction with traditional techniques.

I’m Intrigued - Now What?
For more information about EMDR and to read studies of it, please visit If you suspect that troubling experiences from your past are holding you back in your life today, contact Empower Therapy at 541-234-3271 to find out if EMDR might be right for you.

1. (2012). EMDRIA Definition of EMDR. Retrieved 15 Oct 2012 from
2. Greene, J. (Sept 2012). Level I EMDR Training. Boulder, CO.


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