Angela Hathaway, M. Ed., LCMHC, LPC, NCC

Trauma & Perinatal Specialist

What is EMDR?

About EMDR Therapy
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR therapy has been extensively researched and has demonstrated to be one of the most efficient and effective forms of treatment for trauma, depression, anxiety, phobias, and many other mental health conditions.

Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves  communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help. Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment, or of being "frozen in time." EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume.  The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.

How is EMDR different from other therapies?
One of the features that makes EMDR so gentle, yet effective, is that it does not require talking about the trauma in detail. This is especially helpful for people who have experienced trauma so intense that they are unable to "tell the story." One of the most common and "traditional" types of therapy is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the trauma. EMDR therapy is very different in that it is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories using the brain's natural, neurological healing systems. By treating the trauma at a neurological level, it creates permanent change in the "wiring" of the brain that triggers the fight, flight, or freeze responses.

Who can benefit from EMDR therapy?
EMDR is used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including (but not limited to):

  • PTSD and other trauma and stress related issues
  • Sexual Assault
  • Violence and abuse
  • Depression
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
  • Performance anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder

  • Personality disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief and loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Chronic Pain
  • Substance abuse and addiction

How effective is EMDR?
Modern neuro-science is quickly changing the face of mental health counseling! When it comes to treating trauma, EMDR's neuro-based approach is one of the most evidence-based therapies that exists. When compared to the most commonly used "talk therapy," Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), research has shown that EMDR is more thorough, efficient, and durable than CBT and many other types of therapy. This means that you get more complete healing, in a shorter amount of time (fewer sessions), with a reduced likelihood of symptom re-appearance.

What does an EMDR session look like?
During your very first EMDR session, I will take a brief history of your primary concerns. Using this information, we will work together to determine which event or behavior we would like to begin with. I will introduce you to the equipment we will use to create bi-lateral stimulation in the brain. You can choose from visual, audio, or tactile equipment. Visual stimulation involves using your eyes to track a light on a "light bar" placed in front of you. Audio stimulation uses headphones that will play a sound in alternating ears. And tactile stimulation uses small discs held in your hands that will vibrate alternately in each hand. You can choose which option feels best for you.

At the beginning of each subsequent session, we will identify a "target" event, thought, or behavior that we want to process. Then, we will use your chosen form of bilateral stimulation to allow your brain to tap into it's natural healing processes to process the selected target. We will do repeated sets of 30-90 seconds, noticing your experience between each set. This "dual awareness" between past and present helps prevent the brain from becoming overwhelmed. Your brain will naturally do most of the work, but you are always in control.

Is EMDR right for me?
No type of therapy, including EMDR, is the right fit for every issue or every person. There are many factors that I must consider in order to make a sound clinical recommendation about whether EMDR is an appropriate approach for your specific concerns. If you are interested in EMDR, make sure to mention it when we meet so I can acquire the necessary information and let you know if EMDR would be a good option for you. At the same time, I will provide information about any other types of therapy that I think are worth considering. With that information in mind, you can decide for yourself how you would like to proceed.

Still want to learn more?

Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, PhD. provides a layman's terms explanation of the brain science involved with EMDR.