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EMDR Treatment for Trauma

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, (EMDR), is a psychotherapy originally developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980’s. EMDR treatment enables people to heal from symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences or trauma. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy in a relatively short period of time compared to traditional talk therapy, which can take years to make a difference. EMDR therapy for trauma shows that the mind can heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians have helped millions of clients activate their natural healing processes & relieve symptoms such as anxiety, depression, relationship conflicts, addictions, etc.


Often people assume that trauma only applies to major life threatening experiences such as war, natural disasters, physical assault, rape, child abuse, illness/injury, or near death experiences. These major types of trauma are called “big T traumas”, based on Francine Shapiro’s original theory, and usually result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD). What many people don’t know is that the effects of trauma also apply those who have experienced non-life threatening types of emotional distress, or “little t traumas”.


Examples of “t” trauma include:

  • emotional abuse

  • sexual harassment

  • discrimination

  • poverty

  • accidents

  • negative school or work experiences

  • hospitalizations

  • chronic pain or illness

  • attachment trauma from childhood

Both types of trauma, (“T” and “t”) can cause disruption in a person’s ability to function in daily life. Because traumatic memories become locked in our unconscious memory network, the images, physical sensations, and emotional reactions to the original event can continue to affect a person throughout their lives without treatment. For example, a woman who has been in a car accident may avoid driving. She may also develop fears of other things in her life that remind her in any way of the accident because the memories of the accident are locked in her nervous system. With EMDR, the client is able to unlock the memory, reprocess it, and become much less sensitive to any triggers or reminders of the car accident.

Originally the process of EMDR required the patient to move their eyes back and forth, which mimics the eye movements seen beneath the eyelids when people are asleep and dreaming. This is attributed to the activation of the right hemisphere of the brain, or the unconscious part of the brain where memories are stored. By intentionally moving the eyes back and forth the patient stimulates a natural healing and reduction of the hold the original memory has on the client’s emotional state. Eventually through research it was discovered that aside from eye movements, other types of “bilateral stimulation” have been just as effective in the healing process. Many EMDR therapists use a piece of equipment in which the client holds “pulsers” in each hand which send out a small vibration, and the effect of activating the unconscious part of the brain is achieved.


There has been so much research on EMDR that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.

A basic description of how it works:

After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he/she asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and then uses bilateral stimulation. 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. 


In my practice, I use EMDR protocols developed by Laurel Parnell, Ph.D, a world renowned practitioner, trainer, and author of several books on EMDR. I am fortunate to have been trained by Laurel Parnell, and have found that using this form of treatment in my practice has made a profound difference in the lives of my clients of all ages. 


For further information on EMDR and to determine if it is right for you, please check the following websites:

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