What is EMDR?

July 15, 2019


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, also known as EMDR Therapy, is a comprehensive psychotherapy, in some ways similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), that can decrease distress and symptoms related to earlier, disturbing life events.  EMDR was discovered by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980’s as she walked through a park, glancing up, with her eyes moving back and forth.  She was thinking about some distressing parts of her life, and as she walked she realized that the disturbing emotional charge from the distressing material was diminishing.  Curious about the experience, she started to pay attention to what she was doing as those thoughts were going through her mind.  What she noticed happening became the basis for EMDR- her eyes were moving back and forth as she thought of the distressing material, and the negative emotions she had were dissipating.  She tried replicating this experience with colleagues and friends, and as it continued to work, she began to develop a protocol with steps to guide the process.  The first official EMDR research study was with individuals diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from their experiences with the Vietnam War, sexual molestation, or being raped.  The step-by step- protocol worked with them too, and EMDR researchers have spent the last few decades expanding and strengthening the empirical evidence supporting the practice, and standardizing the implementation of this effective and efficient therapy.


Since that chance discovery with eye movements, Shapiro, researchers from around the world, and other EMDR practitioners now know that any alternating bilateral stimulation, such as tactile stimulation or auditory sounds, have a consistent effect- the relief from distressing thoughts and emotions associated with disturbing life experiences.  As a client experiencing EMDR in a session with a therapist, for the most part, it will seem like other types of therapy.  The therapist will take the clients history and get a good idea of what it is they want to work on.  Then, the therapist will facilitate an exercise, which helps the client connect their current issue or problem to one or more experiences from the past.  Once the earliest or most disturbing event is identified, it becomes the target, or focus, for the EMDR processing.  The target memory, along with the disturbing image, emotions, personal beliefs, and body sensations, which are attached to the target are elicited, and then the telltale EMDR bilateral activation will begin.  The therapist may move fingers or an object back and forth in front of the eyes of the client, or turn on the tactile device being held in the clients’ hands that creates a vibration feeling, or perhaps turn on the sounds being heard through headphones, and the “processing” will have begun.


What clients and clinicians have observed, time and time again, is a reduction in the emotional distress associated with a distressing life event, as well as learning and integration of the material into a more efficient, and easier state of being.  For some though, it may not be readily apparent that their current issues are connected to past events.  For instance, it may not be so clear to a person why they continually make bad choices when it comes to romantic partners.  They may know they want better for themselves, yet when it comes down to it, they repeat a similar pattern over and over.  An EMDR therapist could help this person access the different elements of this experience, and just notice what other experiences pop up in their minds.  Likely, some relationship or interaction from childhood is connected to their current feelings, and older stored beliefs, thus it is affecting their present day behaviors and choices.  By identifying and reprocessing the earlier experience, negative thoughts about oneself such as “I am unlovable,” can be transformed in to more adaptive beliefs, such as “I am lovable, I deserve respect.”  Imagine the different choices one would make if they truly felt they were lovable, rather than feeling deep down that they were, in fact, not lovable.  EMDR clients and clinicians can tell you- it makes a big difference!  People can be freed from these limiting beliefs that propel them to make choices that erode their quality of life, and face the future with more positive and adaptive beliefs that allow them to make new choices, creating the potential for a life that is more joyful, healthy, and satisfying. Another way to say it is that EMDR Therapy can help bring your internal filing system, into a currently efficient and organized manner, so you can be your best self TODAY!


For further questions and explanations about EMDR Therapy, here are some additional resources;

  • Getting Past Your Past – Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy”, by Dr. Francine Shapiro, PhD

  • EMDR International Association – emdria.org

  • EMDR Institute, founded by Dr. Francine Shapiro – emdr.com

  • Francine Shapiro Library - http://emdria.omeka.net/

If you would like to talk to an EMDR trained clinician, or have more questions, please feel free to call Coherence Associates Inc. at (760) 942-8663 or email us at info@coherenceassociates.com.


Coherence Associates Inc.


(760) 942-8663

721 N Vulcan Ave, Suite 106-108, Encinitas, CA. 92024

625 W Citricado Pkwy, Suite 120, Escondido, CA. 92024




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