EMDR therapy is an evidence-based 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.
EMDR therapy is now accepted by many psychological and psychiatric associations as the treatment of choice for trauma. In 2013, The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended EMDR therapy as an empirically validated and effective trauma treatment.
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 networks 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.
One potential advantage of EMDR therapy is that it may allow 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.
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 will be most beneficial for you and the pace that is
right for your system.