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EMDR Therapy: What Is It?

a photo of a persons eye and two fingers being held up while learning more about what is emdr therapy

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) aids in the processing and release of traumatic memories by utilizing eye movements. Trauma affects individuals in various ways, with some experiencing disruptive sleep due to vivid dreams, flashbacks, and heightened anxiety. While conventional talk therapy and medications serve as primary treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), EMDR complements these approaches and enhances their effectiveness. But what exactly is EMDR therapy?

The professionals at Woodland Recovery Center utilize a range of therapies in our PTSD treatment program. We also have a dedicated veterans program that is designed to help those who have served in the armed forces, as well as their families. Call 662.222.2989 to get started today.

Understanding PTSD

Although the human brain possesses an incredible ability to process stressful information, it occasionally stores unprocessed information. Even if you can’t easily access these memories, the brain retains:

  • Images
  • Feelings
  • Thoughts
  • Smells
  • Sounds

While everyone’s brain stores vivid memories—both pleasant and uncomfortable—the memories associated with PTSD are often full of fear, pain, and even anger. The traumatic experiences that lead to PTSD are so impactful and terrifying that people living with the condition often experience them without consciously trying to recall them. They can unexpectedly feel disconnected from their surroundings while feeling sensations and picturing images associated with the experience—this is called a “flashback.” Flashbacks make it hard for people with PTSD to focus, interact with others, or even feel “normal.”

What Is EMDR Therapy?

In 1987, Dr. Francine Shapiro developed eye movement desensitization and reprocessing as a means to address post-traumatic stress disorder. This innovative therapy utilizes eye movements or rhythmic tapping to reframe the way memories are stored in the brain, facilitating effective processing and healing.

EMDR, an evidence-based treatment for PTSD, is highly regarded in the United States. Both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense classify EMDR as a “best practice” for treating veterans with PTSD. Notably, numerous national and international organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), recognize EMDR as an effective therapy.

Why Does an EMDR Therapy Program Work?

EMDR aims to assist individuals in processing painful memories by leveraging the body’s natural functions. It operates on the premise that traumatic events are often inadequately processed in the brain at the time of occurrence. As a result, these memories persist and manifest themselves through nightmares, flashbacks, and recurring feelings of reliving the trauma long after it has ended. When sensory stimuli such as sights, sounds, and smells bear a connection or resemblance to the traumatic event, it can trigger the reactivation of these improperly stored memories.

Since EMDR interrupts the brain’s attachment to traumatic memories, it enables individuals to effectively reprocess them and therefore diminish the intensity of their mental or emotional reactions. As a result, people may find themselves able to cope better with stressful experiences and challenging emotions that can often arise as a consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder.

What Is EMDR Therapy Like?

EMDR therapists undergo training to ensure client safety and stabilization. This includes learning a standard eight-phase EMDR protocol, receiving supervision, and completing clinical hours. All EMDR therapists are licensed clinicians, and there are nationally recognized certifications available for them.

During an EMDR therapy session, the therapist guides you to focus on a trauma memory briefly. Then, they instruct you to perform side-to-side eye movements while thinking of the memory. This bilateral stimulation engages both sides of the brain to facilitate healing.

EMDR therapy typically involves 6-12 sessions, usually once or twice a week. The number of sessions may vary depending on individual responses. It includes creating a treatment plan and goals based on symptoms and desired outcomes.

Start PTSD Treatment at Woodland Recovery Center

Woodland Recovery Center is committed to helping individuals struggling with PTSD access the best treatment options. Our experienced, licensed clinicians provide evidence-based therapy services and individualized care plans tailored to your unique needs. Find the help you need today by calling 662.222.2989 or completing our online form.


EMDR International Association – About EMDR Therapy

American Psychological Association, Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

Frontiers in Psychology – How Does Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy Work? A Systematic Review on Suggested Mechanisms of Action

Evolutions Behavioral Health Services – What Is Resourcing in EMDR Therapy?

Cleveland Clinic – EMDR Therapy