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Reviewing EMDR

Reviewing EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been proven to be very effective for those who have suffered from trauma

Per the SAMHSA National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a one-on-one form of psychotherapy that is designed to reduce trauma-related stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to improve overall mental health functioning.[1]

A Brief History of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy was initially uncovered in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro. She noted that, for some of her patients and under certain circumstances, eye movement reduced the emotional intensity of disturbing thoughts. Dr. Shapiro studied this finding for two years and published the affirmed therapeutic process in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1989.

In the subsequent decades, EMDR has been further refined and developed by a variety of practitioners and researchers across the world. It is through the joint effort of these mental health professionals that the current standardized protocols associated with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy have been established.

What Does EMDR Therapy Actually Look Like?

EMDR therapy has a standard set of protocols that are followed by all appropriately trained professionals. This therapy has the following eight phases including the following: [3]

  1. History and Treatment Planning – This phase typically takes one to two sessions at the outset of the therapy but can be revisited as new problems arise. During this phase, the therapist takes a thorough client history in order to develop a treatment plan. Specific attention is paid to the problem that brought an individual to therapy, including behaviors stemming from the problem and other symptoms. The therapist will need to also gain at least a rudimentary understanding of any memories or events that are particularly disturbing though unlike many other therapeutic options, it is not necessary for the therapist to know the details.
  2. Preparation – During this phase, which is generally two to four sessions, the primary goal is for the therapist to gain the trust of the client. Though details of the traumatic events do not need to be shared, honesty about how the client is feeling is required for EMDR therapy (or frankly any therapy) to be effective. In addition, the therapist teaches specific techniques that will serve as a rapid response protocol of sorts for an emotional disturbance. The therapist will also describe the theory of EMDR, the process of using the techniques developed through EMDR and the way an individual will likely feel during and after employing EMDR techniques.
  3. Assessment – The therapist asks the individual seeking treatment to visualize a specific memory from the traumatic event that encapsulates the memory best. Then, she is instructed to choose a statement that represents a negative self-belief that represents the event; examples include “I am helpless,” “I am worthless” and “I will never succeed.” Then, she is instructed to pick a positive self-statement that she would rather believe, such as “I am safe” or “I am worthwhile.” She will then rate the degree to which she feels (not thinks, but feels) the positive self-statement is true on a 1-to-7 scale referred to as the Validity of Cognition or VOC scale, in which each number is progressively more true. At the same time, she is asked to rate the negative emotions and physical sensations on a 0-10 scale referred to as the Subjective Units of Disturbance or SUD.
  4. Desensitization – During this phase, all the responses associated with the traumatic event are addresses, one by one. The goal of this stage is to reduce the SUD scale to a 1 or zero.
  5. Installation – While the fourth phase focuses on reducing the SUD scale, this installation phase is focused on increasing the VOD scale. As the memory is reprocessed, the therapist focuses on helping the individual fully identify on an emotional level with the positive self-statement. Note that certain steps outside of the therapeutic event may need to take place as well for the VOD scale to be fully realized, such as self-defense training.
  6. Body Scan – During the body scan phase, the physical sensations such as tensed muscles are addressed. Studies have shown that negative memories are not fully addressed until the physical sensations associated with this event are dealt with as certain types of information related to traumatic events are stored in muscle memory rather than narrative memory. The goal of this session is for an individual to be able to recall a traumatic memory with any physical sensations.
  7. Closure – Closure ends every treatment session. The goal is to be certain an individual feels stronger or better leaving a session than when she arrived. This is accomplished through a variety of calming mechanisms. Journaling and other calming techniques are also addressed.
  8. Reevaluation – Each new session begins with reevaluation. This is conducted in order to ensure positive changes have been maintained between sessions.

Your Trauma Should Never Rule Your Life

Unfortunately, it is fairly common for an individual suffering from PTSD to have a deep sense of shame associated with the diagnosis. Surviving a traumatic event and being impacted by it does not make you weak. It makes you a survivor. Your brain is trying to reconcile the trauma with the rest of your life experiences.

At times, you cannot do it on your own in Des Moines. EMDR treatment is one option for treatment of PTSD. If you are struggling with PTSD, the weight of feeling like a failure can be overwhelming. Some days, you can feel as though your story will never be one that is free from the past. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admissions counselors at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about mental health disorders in Des Moines. They can help you find your way.


[1], “How was EMDR Developed,” accessed November 12, 2015.

[2], “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,” accessed November 11, 2015.

[3], “A Brief Description of EMDR Therapy,” accessed November 13, 2015.