What is EMDR Therapy

What is EMDR Therapy

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is designed to help patients who have survived trauma by alleviating the distress associated with their traumatic memories. The goal of EMDR is to help someone heal from trauma and PTSD by moving their eyes in a certain way while they process their traumatic memories. EMDR is a relatively new therapy technique; its first clinical trial was in 1989, but since then, it has proven highly effective.  

EMDR is based on the idea that trauma overwhelms the brain’s natural ability to heal. With EMDR, the healing process can be accomplished through stimulation while the patient re-experiences the trauma in a safe environment. 

“[EMDR] identifies and addresses traumatic experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural coping capacity, and, as a result, have created traumatic symptoms, such as flashbacks or anxiety, or harmful coping strategies, such as isolating behavior and self-medication with alcohol or drugs,” says Romas Buivydas, Ph.D., LMHC, vice president of clinical development for Spectrum Health Systems.

Who Needs EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy can be helpful for a wide range of mental health conditions, but it was initially developed for trauma and PTSD. Teens and adults typically benefit from this treatment, and sometimes it is used for children who have suffered trauma. Since trauma is often part of addictions to drugs and alcohol, EMDR can be used to help those who are recovering from their addiction.

The studies on the effectiveness of EMDR therapy have found it only works on those who have had traumatic experiences, including childhood trauma, combat trauma, rape or sexual assault, life-threatening accidents, and those with anxiety, depression, or addictions.

What Conditions Benefit From EMDR?

While EMDR is mostly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can also be used for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety, panic disorders, and phobias
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Depression and bipolar disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Gender dysphoria
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse and addiction

How EMDR Therapy Differs From Other Therapies

Most therapy involves talking in extensive detail about issues and completing homework between sessions. They focus on the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions rooted in the trauma. EMDR therapy, on the other hand, focuses on helping the brain process the trauma and resume its natural healing process. EMDR helps the patient resolve any unprocessed traumatic memories in their brain. EMDR therapy can often be completed much quicker than other forms of treatment.

How EMDR Therapy Affects the Brain

The human brain can naturally recover from traumatic events and memories. This recovery involves communication between three areas of the brain: the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. Although the brain can do this independently, it sometimes needs some help processing and resolving traumatic experiences. When distress from a traumatic event remains in the brain without being processed and healed, the images, thoughts, and emotions related to it can create an overwhelming feeling that the person is back in that moment, often referred to as a flashback. EMDR relieves the patient of those flashbacks by adequately processing the memories. While the patient will still remember the experience, they will no longer have their fight or flight instinct triggered when it’s not needed.

Edy Nathan, MA, LCSW, who specializes in EMDR therapy, explains that “[EMDR] shift[s] the way we process the presence of the physical, emotional, and psychological effects related specifically to a traumatic event. The pain and sense of danger carried within the self after a traumatic event grips the soul with such intensity that it leads into a sense of being in emotional quicksand. EMDR works to disarm belief systems, also known as cognition, and changes the negative cognition through a series of lateral eye movements, tapping, or sound, while the client is asked to create the picture of pain and danger that most disturbs them.”

Is EMDR a Commonly Used Therapy?

EMDR therapy is considered to be highly effective and is commonly used around the world. In fact, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense list EMDR therapy as a best practice for treating veterans with PTSD.

What is Involved in EMDR Therapy?

There are eight phases to EMDR therapy that take place throughout multiple sessions. Sometimes, more than one phase can be completed in a single session; this is up to the patient and therapist. The time it takes to complete EMDR therapy depends on the complexity of the trauma and how long the patient has suffered.

The phases are:

  • History and information gathering
  • Preparation
  • Assessment
  • Desensitization and reprocessing
  • Installation
  • Body scan
  • Closure
  • Reevaluation


The Pros and Cons of EMDR


  • EMDR therapy works.
  • EMDR often works faster than other types of therapy.
  • There is less homework.
  • It is often less stressful.


  • EMDR only works for conditions related to trauma.
  • It is still theoretical.
  • EMDR is a relatively new therapy.

What Is the Success Rate of EMDR Therapy?

The EMDR Institute says that in studies of EMDR therapy, 84 to 90 percent of victims who suffered from only a single trauma stopped having PTSD symptoms after three 90-minute sessions. Another study indicated that 100 percent of victims of a single trauma and 77 percent of those with multiple traumas no longer had PTSD after six 50-minute sessions. A study on veterans found that 77 percent of combat veterans no longer had PTSD in only 12 sessions.

EMDR Therapy for Addiction Recovery

EMDR therapy is an effective way to help someone recover from a substance use disorder. EMDR aids recovery because many who suffer from addiction have an underlying trauma that precipitated the disease. While not everyone with addiction has experienced trauma, EMDR can be an effective therapy for those who have.

EMDR therapy can be helpful to a wide range of mental health conditions but was initially developed for trauma and PTSD. Teens and adults typically receive this treatment, but it has been used on children with positive results.

The studies on the effectiveness of EMDR therapy have found it only works on those who have had traumatic experiences, including childhood trauma, combat trauma, rape or sexual assault, life-threatening accidents, and those with anxiety, depression, or addictions.

Recovery at Sunshine Care Centers

Sunshine Care Centers offers EMDR therapy for those suffering from mental health concerns or substance use disorder. We have learned that the best recovery comes from combining different therapy modalities in conjunction with work with a medical doctor. From music therapy to cognitive-behavioral and trauma therapy, our experienced medical staff has you covered. We help design a treatment plan that meets your recovery goals by offering unique services and different levels of care.

Sunshine Care Centers has a suite of specialists with over 30 years of experience in drug and alcohol rehabilitation to assist you on the road to recovery. Whether in North Texas or Southern California, Sunshine Care Centers offers the highest level of care available. We pride ourselves on our clean, compassionate, and secure environment. We use evidence-based addiction treatment with flexible programs that cater to your needs. 

Don’t wait to receive the help you deserve. 

Speak to a specialist at Sunshine Care Centers by calling 883-597-CARE or message us today! 


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