What is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy?

EMDR is an evidence-based and internationally recognised approach used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that was founded by Francine Shapiro in 1987. Further research has found that EMDR can help address:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Attachment injuries
  • Self-Esteem
  • Grief and Mourning
  • Phobias

EMDR allows us to process our past experiences to eliminate the distressing emotions, sensations, and beliefs that interfere with our daily lives. Through this approach, we are informed by our memory but not controlled by them (Shapiro, 2018).

EMDR promotes the brain’s natural healing process. Shapiro compared the process as removing a splinter, cleaning the dirt to prevent infection, and allowing the wound to heal. EMDR helps us digest the raw and inadequately stored memory (that negatively impacts our daily lives) and will enable us to keep what is useful from that experience and discard what we don’t need.

EMDR therapy uses a three-pronged approach. What this means is that we will look at:

The Past

We identify past events, disturbances, and traumatic experiences.

The Present

The presenting symptoms, current situation(s), and triggers are identified. We review the symptoms of the presenting concerns: negative beliefs, emotions, sensations, and behaviours.

The Future

We determine and identify our future desired outcome. We look at how we would like to handle present difficulties or something similar in the future.

What to expect.

EMDR has 8-phases, which includes:

  • History taking
  • Preparation
  • Assessment
  • Desensitisation
  • Installation
  • Body scan
  • Closure
  • Re-evaluation

Alternating eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (auditory and sensory) are used in one part of the session. Shapiro (2018) stated that the alternating eye movements mimics Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which facilitates memory and emotional processing. Consequently, allowing our brain to heal fragmented and unprocessed episodic and traumatic memories trapped in our hippocampus (part of the limbic system that is responsible for learning and memory) or amygdala (part of the limbic system that is responsible for processing emotions that also detects threats and activates survival behaviours in response to the perceived dangerous stimuli).


Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press

Reach out, I am here to listen.