Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a comprehensive psychotherapy (developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987) which accelerates the treatment of disturbing life events that impact current functioning.  Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy, adults and children can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

More than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy.  Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.  There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense. 

Examples of Presenting Issues for EMDR therapy:

  • Complex trauma
  • Childhood neglect/emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse
  • Rape
  • Domestic Violence
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Performance blocks: (Competitive Athletes, Writers, Musicians, Public Speakers)
  • Phobias
  • Complicated Grief
  • Relational Conflicts/Betrayals/Abandonment
  • Auto Accidents
  • Fear of Flying
  • Chronic Pain
  • Addiction Issues
  • School Bullying
  • Sexual Dysfunction  

Eight Phases of Treatment in EMDR:

Phase 1: The first phase is a history-taking session(s).  The therapist assesses the client’s readiness and develops a treatment plan.  Client and therapist identify possible targets for EMDR processing.  These include distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional distress.  Other targets may include related incidents in the past.  Emphasis is placed on the development of specific skills and behaviors that will be needed by the client in future situations.

Phase 2: During the second phase of treatment, the therapist ensures that the client has several different ways of handling emotional distress. The therapist may teach the client a variety of imagery and stress reduction techniques the client can use during and between sessions. A goal of EMDR therapy is to produce rapid and effective change while the client maintains equilibrium during and between sessions.

Phases 3-6: In phases three to six, a target is identified and processed using EMDR therapy procedures.  These involve the client identifying three things: vivid visual image related to the memory, a negative belief about self, and related emotions and body sensations.  The client also identifies a positive belief he or she would rather believe.  The client is then instructed to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation.  These sets may include eye movements, taps, or tones.

Phase 7: In phase seven, closure serves to remind the client of the self-calming activities that were mastered in phase two and to review progress.

Phase 8: Phase eight consists of examining the progress made thus far.  The EMDR treatment processes all related historical events, current incidents that elicit distress, and planning for future events that will require different responses.

Video Links:

What is EMDR?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dwp_2RkOfBg
How/Why EMDR works?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWyDWvMEl1E

Helpful resources on EMDR:


General Referrals:

If you would like to start EMDR therapy or would like to refer someone for EMDR therapy, call our office at 507-288-6978 to speak to Jill (office manager) or Caitlin (EMDR therapist).  

*Referral ages: five and older. 

Provider Referrals for EDMR in Addition to Current Therapy:

EMDR is often a useful tool to help a client gain movement in therapy when progress has seemed to slow in therapy sessions.  EMDR can be utilized in a limited capacity to assist in this situation.  EMDR therapy can help a client in identifying blocking beliefs and resolve stalls in processing rather quickly and effectively allowing the client to continue to make progress in their current therapeutic setting.  Clients referred for this reason will be seen by our EMDR clinician for a maximum of three sessions at a time, before which the client will sign an agreement acknowledging they will continue with/return to their previous provider once EMDR treatment is completed.    


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