EMDR – what happens

Michael W. Keller’s Summary Sheet for Clients

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing [EMDR] is a procedure used in psychotherapy to help you reduce the impact of experiences from the past that intrude on your present-day life. Usually, these experiences from the past involve a trauma such as assault, abuse, an accident, or a natural disaster. Even though the trauma may have happened many months or even years ago, you still feel its impact in your daily life through post traumatic symptoms such as intrusive memories, emotional flooding, nightmares, anxiety, numbing, low self-esteem, and difficulty getting on with your life. EMDR has also been used to help people deal with anxiety and panic, grief, reactions to physical illness, and many other conditions where strong emotions are associated with life experiences. To date, the effectiveness of EMDR for problems other than posttraumatic stress has not been demonstrated by research.

Problems Coping with Trauma

In daily life we all use our minds to figure things out, cope with predictable stresses, and regulate our emotions and our self-esteem. The experience of trauma overwhelms our capacity to cope, and the trauma experience often gets stored in our minds in ways that make it very difficult to use our usual ways of coping. For example, even though we know that a traumatic event happened in the past, it becomes impossible for us to think about it without starting to feel emotions and other sensations that occurred at the time of the original experience.

We also typically develop a negative way of thinking about ourselves in relation to trauma, such as “I caused it” or “I’m a bad person.” These negative thoughts may influence how we think and feel about ourselves in other situations. EMDR attempts to activate your coping skills to deal with the present‑day impact of the trauma. The EMDR procedure can help desensitise the images and feelings associated with the trauma. It can help you recognise and work on feelings and thoughts that come up with the trauma. And it can help you think differently about yourself in relation to the trauma.