Can EMDR Heal Trauma?

Henna Geronimo
February 2, 2024

Have you ever felt trapped by the shadows of past traumas, wondering if there's a way out of it? Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy offers a different approach to confronting and processing these deep-seated emotional wounds. 

This therapy, recognized for its unique method of tapping into the rhythm of our own eye movements to heal the mind, raises a pivotal question: Can EMDR truly heal trauma?

As we delve into the mechanisms of EMDR therapy, let's explore its potential for psychological healing.

trauma treatment
Source: Roots Mental Wellness

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals recover from the distressing emotions associated with traumatic memories.

Developed in the late 1980s by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR therapy is based on the premise that the mind can heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.

When you cut your hand, for instance, 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 our mental processes. The brain's information processing system naturally moves toward mental health unless it is blocked by the impact of a disturbing event. EMDR therapy aims to remove these blocks, allowing the brain to process these traumatic memories effectively.

Principles and Process of EMDR Therapy

The core of EMDR therapy involves eight distinct phases, focusing on past memories, present disturbances, and future actions. The process begins with a thorough history-taking session, followed by preparation where the therapist ensures the client is ready for EMDR therapy, often by teaching stress-reduction techniques.

The central part of the therapy involves phases three to six, where the target traumatic memories are identified, and the client is asked to focus on them while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. This stimulation typically involves guided eye movements, but it can also include taps or tones.

The Role of Bilateral Stimulation

Bilateral stimulation is a cornerstone of EMDR therapy, believed to mimic the psychological state that we enter into during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, our eyes move rapidly from side to side, which is thought to contribute to the processing of emotional experiences.

In EMDR therapy, bilateral stimulation facilitates the brain's natural healing process, allowing it to reprocess trapped memories of trauma. This reprocessing involves the desensitization of traumatic memories, effectively reducing their emotional impact, and helping the individual to develop new, healthier associations.

Through bilateral stimulation, EMDR therapy can decrease the vividness and emotional charge of traumatic memories. The process enables individuals to process these memories in a safe environment, reducing their lingering effects and aiding in psychological healing.

Studies and clinical practice have shown EMDR's effectiveness in treating various forms of trauma, including PTSD.

EMDR effectiveness

EMDR and Trauma Healing

EMDR therapy is supported by extensive scientific research and endorsed by experts in mental health. It has shown remarkable efficacy in reducing PTSD symptoms, sometimes outperforming traditional therapies like CBT. 

Studies in publications underscore its effectiveness, highlighting the significant and lasting reduction in trauma-related distress.

Mental health professionals, including EMDR's founder Dr. Francine Shapiro, attest to its positive impact on patients, emphasizing its ability to unlock the brain's innate capacity for healing across various forms of trauma.

EMDR therapy's success reflects its foundational belief in the human mind's resilience, aligning with Roots Mental Wellness's commitment to promoting recovery and well-being.

Types of Trauma Treated by EMDR

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder): EMDR is widely recognized for its effectiveness in treating PTSD, helping individuals process and recover from the symptoms associated with traumatic events such as combat exposure, accidents, or natural disasters.

Childhood Trauma: EMDR therapy has been successful in treating trauma stemming from adverse childhood experiences, including neglect, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, contributing to long-term healing.

Abuse: This includes both physical and emotional abuse experienced in adulthood or childhood. EMDR helps survivors process these traumatic memories, reducing their lasting impact.

Anxiety and Panic Disorders: Trauma-induced anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias can also be treated with EMDR.

Grief and Loss: The profound impact of losing a loved one or experiencing significant loss can lead to traumatic grief, which EMDR can help individuals process more healthily.

Witnessing Violence: People who have witnessed acts of violence, whether in personal relationships, communities, or through media exposure, can find relief from the traumatic impact through EMDR therapy.

Accidents and Natural Disasters: Survivors of car accidents, natural disasters, and other life-threatening events often benefit from EMDR therapy, which helps alleviate the stress and fear triggered by such experiences.

Medical Trauma: Experiences of medical interventions, prolonged illness, or traumatic births can be processed through EMDR to reduce the psychological distress associated with these events.

psychological healing
Source: Roots Mental Wellness

The Process of EMDR Therapy

Overview of EMDR Therapy Sessions

EMDR therapy sessions typically last between 60 to 90 minutes. The frequency and total number of sessions can vary widely depending on the individual's needs, the nature of the trauma being treated, and their response to therapy.

Some individuals may experience significant improvement within just a few sessions, while others may require a longer treatment period.

Stages of EMDR Treatment

EMDR therapy is conducted in eight distinct phases:

History and Treatment Planning: The therapist assesses the patient's history to understand the nature of the trauma and decide on the treatment approach.

Preparation: The therapist explains the EMDR process and equips the patient with techniques to handle emotional distress.

Assessment: The specific traumatic memory to be targeted is identified, along with the negative beliefs associated with it.

Desensitization: The patient focuses on the traumatic memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation, leading to a decrease in emotional distress.

Installation: The therapist helps the patient anchor positive beliefs, replacing the negative ones tied to the traumatic memory.

Body Scan: The patient is asked to notice any residual bodily tension when thinking of the event and works to release it.

Closure: Ensures the patient leaves the session feeling better than when they started, employing relaxation techniques if needed.

Reevaluation: At the beginning of each session, the therapist checks the progress made and decides on the next steps.


Finding an EMDR Therapist

EMDR therapy offers a promising approach for those struggling with the aftermath of traumatic experiences, providing a structured, evidence-based approach to healing. If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, consider exploring EMDR therapy as a potential avenue for recovery.

At Roots Mental Wellness, we’re committed to supporting your journey towards healing and resilience. Reach out to us to learn more about how EMDR therapy can help you.

Share this post
Henna Geronimo
Contributing Writer