What Is EMDR and Can It Improve My Life?

March 20, 2019 Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can reduce mental distress. Learn what it is and who EMDR can help at HealthyPlace.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy technique initially developed to treat trauma. There's been a lot of research conducted on this treatment modality over the last several decades. In addition to effectively resolving traumatic experiences, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has shown to be useful in helping people overcome addictions, change negative core beliefs, and reduce emotional distress. But what exactly is EMDR?

I am a huge proponent of EMDR for two reasons. First, I've worked with an EMDR therapist in my personal therapy and have had significant improvements in everything from resolving my experiences of being bullied in middle school, to processing family of origin grief, to reducing my phobia of flying. Second, as an EMDR therapist myself, I have seen it's profound effects on others.

How Does Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Work?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing works by stimulating the brain to fire the way it does during REM sleep. In this phase of sleep, the brain engages in bilateral stimulation, a process that is like digestion for the brain. Your brain sorts, files, and solves problems while you sleep. It's probably why people intuitively know to say, "Let me sleep on it." Sometimes, problems are so big or keep happening for such a long time, that the brain can't resolve the issue and it gets stuck. Such stuckness can look like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, addictions, low self-esteem, or other emotional health problems. 

Therapists help clients identify where their stuck points are, and then initiate bilateral stimulation through eye movement or alternating physical sensations to get the brain doing it's best problem-solving. Once the brain is activated, the therapist guides the client on an exploration of the stuck point, usually by revisiting a memory associated with the problem issue. What I really love about EMDR is that your brain is doing all the work. You free associate (similar to what you do while dreaming) and you and your therapist follow along to allow your brain to heal itself the way nature intended. If you want to see the equipment therapists often use for EMDR, check out my video here, where I also discuss the process in more detail.

Will EMDR Make Me Feel Better?

I can tell you from my personal experience, EMDR completely resolved the sadness and low self-esteem issues that resulted from being bullied as a kid. It helped me achieve peace around some traumatic family experiences in my childhood and also helped (but did not completely resolve) my fear of flying. It's not a magic cure-all, but it has been highly effective for many people with a variety of problems.

You might be a good candidate for EMDR if talk therapy hasn't helped you feel better about yourself, reduce distress from past traumas, reduce problem behaviors, or change your negative self-talk patterns. You might not be a good candidate for EMDR if you tend to disassociate when talking about your trauma, you don't have a clear understanding of what you want to change about yourself, or you don't have effective coping skills to help you get grounded when your emotions are activated. You and your EMDR therapist can decide if EMDR will be helpful for you and what steps might need to be taken to prepare you for EMDR work.

Tags: emdr

APA Reference
Green, H. (2019, March 20). What Is EMDR and Can It Improve My Life?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Heidi Green is a clinical psychologist and self-love aficionado. She lives her blissful life in Arizona where she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and snuggling her rescue pups. Find Heidi on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and her blog.

Please note: Dr. Green shares her personal opinions and experiences and nothing written by her should be considered professional or personal services or advice.

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