What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is the name given to an innovative method of psychotherapy that was discovered in 1987 by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro. It has since been shown that EMDR therapy enhances people's ability to resolve unprocessed memories and other life problems, and EMDR protocols have been extensively examined in controlled scientific studies and have been found to be effective for the treatment of various symptoms and conditions.

EMDR therapy uses a three pronged protocol: Past Events, Present Triggers and Future Templates. EMDR is a complex method that brings together elements from the major clinical theoretical orientations, including psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, client-centred and hypnotic therapies. Although, it might appear in EMDR that it is the effect of the eye movement alone that leads to rapid symptom resolution, it must be understood that eye movement (or alternate taps or tones) is only one phase of an overall eight phase psychotherapy treatment plan in standard EMDR treatment.


EMDR therapy is based on the Adaptive Information Processing model (AIP). We naturally process and resolve upsetting or incongruous events into memories without holding negative perception, emotions or physical sensation of those events. It is about “here and now”. It happened to me, I have learnt from it and I am living in the present time; it is called adaptive resolution. The mind is capable to process unpleasant experiences naturally without having therapy. However, we may be traumatised if natural information processing does not occur when we experience unpleasant events and those experiences dysfunctionally stored in the memory network (trauma). According to the AIP, mental disorders are caused by those blocked memories. The risk of developing trauma/mental disorders depends on the failure of the AIP. The AIP might fail if incidents are intense, sudden, uncontrollable, unpredictable, extremely negative or if there is defence mechanism preventing individuals from perceiving and processing the experience.

In some situations when a person is overwhelmingly upset, the brain cannot process information as it normally does and the intense emotion experienced at the time of the event becomes 'frozen' and 'locked' in the information processing system. Subsequently, present day internal and external reminders of these experiences often trigger a re-experiencing of those sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, body sensations or emotions such that they can feel as intense as when they were first experienced. Those unresolved memories may have a profoundly negative impact on the way a person interacts with the world and relates to other people. Under the influence of such unresolved experiences, behaviour can become constricted and inflexible in order to avoid painful re-experiencing.

Research suggests that by attending to eye movements, auditory tones or hand taps as part of the EMDR procedures, this triggers an innate neurophysiological mechanism known as 'the investigatory response' which in turn leads to 'adaptive information processing'. With successful EMDR treatment, the upsetting experiences are worked through to neutral or positive (adaptive resolution). EMDR assists learning and re-learning from the negative experiences to allow clients to incorporate models for adaptive future behaviours. EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. *(Based on "What Is EMDR" by Andrew M. Leeds - modified by Anthony Smith April 2004)

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