What is EMDR?

EMDR is a powerful therapeutic approach originally developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro. It is an evidenced-based approach that has been highly researched over the course of many years. The acronym EMDR stands for ‘Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing’.


What sounds like a complicated approach is actually a very gentle and ‘organic’ approach to reprocessing trauma, and other difficult situations that emerge in life such as depression and anxiety.


EMDR is considered the ‘gold standard’ of treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as well as for traumatic situations in general including ongoing traumatic situations that are complex, as well as for developmental traumas. It is also used to address various other issues ranging from anxiety to depression to issues emerging from ADHD. A great deal of research has been done which offers evidence for the efficacy of this treatment approach.


When speaking with clients, I often characterize it as a ‘gentle’ process because fundamentally, I am asking clients to simply relax and notice their own responses as we go through the process. We focus on helping them to become aware of their own body sensations (ie chest tightening, lump in throat, body tension etc), emotions and thoughts in the moment, as we process the targeted memory or situation.


The process relies on something called ‘bilateral stimulation’ to encourage the client’s brain to begin to adaptively process the situation/memory/emotion.


How can this possibly work when some therapists are only offering EMDR online?
For the past two years in particular, as we have all been faced with COVID-19, many therapists have offered EMDR through online video meetings. There are several ways that this can be done effectively. The two most common ways that I use are either to simply have clients track my fingers visually as I move them from side to side on the screen or alternatively to employ the ‘butterfly tapping’ method which has a client crossing their arms or hands in front of themselves and then tapping from side to side. These ways of facilitating the ‘Bilateral Stimulation’ element of EMDR have been very effective online.


What is supposed to happen in EMDR?

There is really no right or wrong way to experience EMDR from a client perspective. Nor is there a particular outcome that a client is ‘supposed’ to achieve specifically. This is because EMDR is about your brain (as the client) adaptively processing your unique experience. Simply put, it is about me, as the therapist, facilitating your process of where your brain takes you.

Having said that, some clients have noted that after an EMDR session they feel distance from the memory that we targeted in the first place, sometimes they report that it feels as if something has ‘shifted’ in the way they view the memory and in the way they view themselves as a result.


How does it work if I haven’t really experienced a trauma?

Sometimes what we are processing is an emotion. For example, when a person is struggling with depression, they typically might feel sad and lacking in energy or motivation. We might explore how those feelings might either be based in or be creating an underlying negative belief about them. Those underlying stories or narratives that we tell ourselves can be very deeply rooted and powerful. So for example someone who is struggling with depression might discover after some discussion, that they have this underlying negative belief about themselves. In depression that underlying negative belief might be that they feel and believe that they are ‘worthless’ or ‘un-loveable’. We can then use this new understanding of the underlying negative belief about them to target a particular moment in time when that underlying belief has felt overwhelming for them and begin the reprocessing at that point.


In summary:

EMDR is a powerful approach to emotional healing that has been researched a proven effective over the course of time. It can provide a greater sense of emotional freedom and a way to become less ‘stuck’ in the situations of life!


This blog was written by Registered Psychotherapist, Jennifer Ackford. Jennifer is currently offering virtual appointments. Brant Mental Health Solutions is committed to offering in person, virtual and telephone appointments to suit each clients comfort level.


As always this blog is designed to be a guide and is not considered complete. It also does not replace seeking the help of a trained professional. For more information about EMDR, or to book a free 15 minute consultation with one of our therapists ,call us at 519.302.2300 or email reception@brantmentalhealth.com