What is EMDR Therapy? - Harmony Oaks Recovery Center
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What is EMDR Therapy?

Medical Review IconBy: Harmony Staff

Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Deja Gilbert, PhD, LMHC, LPC

Updated on 03/28/2022

Table of Contents


Back in the late 1980s, Dr. Francine Shapiro invented EMDR therapy, a type of psychotherapy. The primary goal of this kind of therapy is to help people to heal from distress associated with stressful or disturbing life events.


Since EMDR therapy was created, studies have shown that it offers people therapeutic rewards and numerous benefits much sooner than with various other treatment methods, such as individual therapy. While talk therapy is a great tool for recovery, EMDR therapy involves more than just words. During this type of therapy, the client uses sweeping, rhytmic eye motions while listening to tones or tapping sounds. The entire process helps to relieve and prevent emotional distress.


Today, EMDR therapy is often used in mental health and addiction treatment centers. Many medical professionals find it to be a beneficial tool for their clients.

What EMDR Means?

If you are considering attending EMDR therapy, you may want to know more about it first. One of the things that you may have wondered is what EMDR even means. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization reprocessing. It is a type of therapy that uses eye movements to desensitize someone who experiences tough emotions relating to trauma or other stressful situation in life.

Why Does EMDR Therapy Work?

There are many people who are wondering why EMDR therapy works. Isn’t it just staring at a bar and trying to think differently? No, there is much more to this type of therapy than just looking and thinking.


When someone is hurt, their body needs time and the ability to heal the wound. If there is a piece of metal or another object stuck in the body, it can lead to pain, an infection or another serious health issue. However, once the object is taken out of the body, there are fewer chances for those health issues to arise.


This goes the same for mental health issues. If you or someone you know has an emotional wound, your brain needs to get rid of the blockage, so you can stop feeling as upset about the specific event. On the other hand, when someone has the ability to heal their mind from past traumas or stressors, they are less likely to display mental health symptoms. They are able to improve their emotional and mental health on various levels.

How Can Rapid Eye Movements Help Reduce Disturbing Memories and Other Trauma-Related Issues?

The REMS (rapid eye movements) that are used in EMDR therapy are the exact motions that happen when someone is dreaming. However, when they are used during EMDR therapy, the client is able to work on reprocessing memories from short-term storage and change them into a more positive long-term memory. The result is generally that the client isn’t as provoked emotionally from this memory in the future when they think about it. Rather, they have a raw, new feeling that is distant and less emotional.


Do you have strong emotions toward a past event or multiple events? If so, whether it was from trauma or something else that happened in your life, EMDR therapy might be right for you. The exact time it takes for you to reprocess your memories may vary. For some people, it happens quickly and for others, it takes more time. Either way, you can remove negative blocks and reprocess memory information through this type of therapy.

What Side Effects Are There with EMDR Treatments?

There are many treatments given for depression, PTSD and anxiety. The majority of those are medications that cause numerous negative side effects. However, when it comes to EMDR therapy, there aren’t any known side effects, short of dealing with the memory itself.

What Conditions Are Treated with EMDR Therapy?

There are many professionals who are trained to offer EMDR therapy to their clients. If you are in need of this type of therapy, it could potentially help to treat a condition that you have.

Treating Anxiety with EMDR Therapy

Treating Anxiety with EMDR Therapy

There are numerous types of anxiety-related disorders and issues. Some of them stem from disturbing experiences. Others are a result of life situations or fears. However, it is important to know that EMDR therapy is helpful in treating and relieving anxiety. Over time, when using this type of therapy, you can prevent a lot of future anxiety, as well.

Treating PTSD with EMDR Therapy

Treating PTSD with EMDR Therapy

If you have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), you may struggle with flashbacks, high stress levels, anxiety and other issues. You may have a difficult time keeping healthy relationships and may struggle with co-dependency, as well. If you are dealing with any issues related to PTSD, don’t worry. You can get the help you need to reprocess the trauma, so it doesn’t continue to cause negative problems in your life. EMDR therapy can help you with this process.

Treating Addiction with EMDR Therapy

Treating Addiction with EMDR Therapy

Do you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol? If so, you may have experienced a world of pain and discomfort already. You may have had experiences that you would rather forget. As part of addiction treatment, EMDR therapy can be used to address the underlying causes of your addiction. They can also help you to process past trauma and negative memories that play a role in your continued drug or alcohol use. Once you get to the root of these issues, along with the help of your therapist, you can reprocess those memories to help you overcome the addiction.


As you can see, EMDR therapy can be truly beneficial when it comes to treating anxiety, PTSD and addictions. If you are struggling with any of these issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Harmony Oaks Recovery team to get started in a treatment program that offers EMDR therapy.

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?


Phase 1: Your Background and History

Phase 2: Preparing for Therapy

Phase 3: Assessment of the Client


Phase 5: The Installation

Phase 6: The Body Scan

Phase 7: Getting Closure

Phase 8: Doing the Reevaluation

Phase 9 (extra): Repeat Steps if Necessary


EMDR therapy is an 8 stage process. Each one of the processes needs to be completed in order for the client to experience the most benefits. Before you start diving into the treatment, it might help you to know more about how EMDR therapy works.


First, it will be helpful to know that EMDR treatment does focus on the past. However, it also focuses on how the past is affecting you now and what you can do about it to improve your future.


In regards to the past, the therapist will help you dig out disturbing events that have happened. The therapist will then help you to go over situations that are happening in your life right now that might be causing you distress. Finally, you can focus on developing positive lifestyle skills and taking positive actions for your future.

Phase 1 – Your Background and History

During the first phase, you will need to uncover any symptoms that bother you. For some people, it is anxiety. Others may have nightmares. These are just a couple of the things that you may need to identify. Phase 1 also allows you to work with the therapist to map out a plan for a better future.


During this phase, you will record your background and history with the therapist. Then, the treatment plan can be created to cover any areas of your life that need addressed during the therapy sessions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Disturbing memories or events from the past
  • Current problems that lead to mental or emotional distress
  • Working on lifestyle skills to help you handle situations that happen in your future, so you don’t feel as wounded from them

The beginning of this phase will focus mainly on your childhood. In fact, the therapist will do a childhood assessment to determine how far back the underlying issues lie. If there are issues from your childhood that are impacting you now, they will be worked on during therapy. The next step is your adolescent years and then adulthood. All issues will be noted. The therapist will work with you to discover how various events affect you today. That can make way for positive behavioral changes for your future.

Phase 2 – Preparing for Therapy

Once you have worked with your therapist on the past and present issues you deal with, your therapist will teach you how to better deal with problematic emotions. Some of the ways that he/she will do this include:

  • Teaching you life skills including stress management and trauma-invoked emotional reduction
  • Learning to use guided imagery to reduce negative emotions during and after your EMDR sessions

EMDR therapy is one of the quickest ways to invoke productive, positive changes in a person’s life. If you are looking to develop a more positive, balanced lifestyle and overcome issues you are facing from the past and present, this is the type of therapy you might want to look into here at Harmony Oaks Recovery Center.

Phase 3 – Assessment of the Client

The assessment phase can be tough. However, it is vital to your overall recovery. During this phase, your therapist will work with you to reveal:

  • A complete mental picture of the memory you are addressing
  • The negative point of view you see yourself in relating to a specific memory
  • Focusing on your body’s feelings and sensations that connect to the negative images and beliefs
  • Connecting to a positive belief, so you can work on letting go of the negative images and beliefs

If you are concerned about this phase, don’t worry. The therapist will guide you through each part of it.

Phase 4 – Densensitizing the Client

In Phase 4, you will work with your therapist to focus on all the areas that were discussed during Phase 3 including the imagery, associated negative feelings and ideas, body sensations and EMDR processing techniques.


This is the phase in which you will work on sweeping eye motions, along with possible taps or other sounds. In EMDR therapy, rhythms are used to help focus the brain and direct attention to what is going on in one’s brain and life. Then, those areas will be explored.


When each rhythm set is complete, your therapist will ask you to blank out your mind. Next, you will be told to describe how you are feeling, what you are thinking, what body sensations you have, what memories come to mind and what images you see. Your therapist will then decide what direction to go based on your responses.


During each EMDR therapy session, you will go through many rhytmic sets. If you are experiencing too much stress during the session, your therapist will use various treatment methods to help you through it.

Phase 5 – The Installation

After your therapist helps you to remove the distress related to a specific memory, she/he will ask you to think about a positive belief that you talked about during the start of the rhythmic set. You can also create a new belief if you choose to do so. You will then focus on this belief in the future when any disturbing event happens. Hopefully, that will help you to reduce negative emotions and reactions in your life.

Phase 6 – The Body Scan

During this phase, you will review past traumas that cause tension and stress in your life. If you still are experiencing stress after a session, your therapist will keep working with you on those events by having you scan your body for distress points. Then, you can focus on those and go through the motions again to remove the negative feelings.

Phase 7 – Getting Closure

Closure is extremely important during EMDR therapy. In order to get closure, your therapist will have you do journal writing. The main purpose of doing this is to allow you to references images and relate those to methods on how to handle disturbing, uncomfortable recollections that you talked about during Phase 2.

Phase 8 – Doing the Reevaluation

Last, but not least, you will need to do a reevaluation with your therapist. You and your therapist will talk about any relevant events from the past, any current issues that are causing you distress and project how you can handle any issues in the future, as well. Hopefully, by this point, you have gained the skills needed to handle negative events in your life with a calmer reaction and more positive thinking.


As you can tell, the EMDR therapy process is a bit long. However, you don’t have to worry because your therapist will guide you through each phase of the therapy and treatment plan.

What Expectations Can You Have with EMDR Treatments?

What Expectations Can You Have with EMDR TreatmentsIn your first EMDR therapy session, your therapist will write down your history. Then, you can work through the phases of EMDR therapy that were mentioned above in that order.


It is important to know that each of your memories will be noted separately. Then, when you are working through the treatments, you will experience 30-second bursts of rhythmic, sweeping eye movements, sounds or tapping. These will occur while you are talking about the following:

  • Images that come to your mind in relation to the memory
  • Negative beliefs you currently have
  • How your memory makes you feel physically and emotionally (so, yes you will need to dive into your emotions)
  • What positive beliefs you can use instead of the negative ones in relation to that memory

There are numerous emotions that may be provoked when you are processing each memory. Some clients get sad while others get anxious. These feelings are all normal and your therapist will help you to work through each one of them. If you continue to work on your treatment program, along with attending the EMDR therapy sessions, it can help you to overcome the issues that have been holding you back. It can also help you to start thinking more positively in the future about what you have already been through and what comes up, as well.

What Do You Need to Know About the Questioning of Sensations, Thoughts, Feelings, and Images?

After you recall the memories, your therapist will be asking you questions about the sensations, thoughts, feelings and images. They will want you to describe all these things with as much detail as you can. For example, if you are thinking about your family when growing up, your therapist will want to know who you see, how you see them, who says what and anything else that comes to your mind. They will want to know how all those details make you feel. The more information you can provide, the more helpful it can be in the process of overcoming negative beliefs.


As each set is acted upon, your brain can make positive, essential connections to alter your memories from distressing events to a learning experience. Once you can learn from what happened, you can stop seeing the event as a devastating part of your life. That can help to clear your mind for positive thoughts and beliefs.

Do You Need Follow Up Therapy?

Many clients want to know if they will need to continue therapy after the first few rounds of EMDR treatment. There isn’t an exact answer for this as everyone is different. However, as more events happen in your life if you forget to use the skills you learned or experience something traumatic or difficult and find it tough to get through it or learn from it, follow up therapy may be the best route to take. The therapist can work with you again on the rhythmic sets to help you reprocess the event that happened. That way, you can get the closure you need to move forward in your life.

Are There Alternative Methods to EMDR Therapy?

You read about the rhythmic sets that are used in EMDR therapy. If you are wondering whether there are alternative methods used in this type of therapy, the answer is yes.


One of the options is called sweeping eye movements. To do this, your therapist will move their hand from one side of your face to the other side. You will track their moving hand with your eyes only (you will not move your head). Then, your therapist will asks you to picture a memory that upsets you. After they move their hand about 20 times, they will ask you what emotions or thoughts you have regarding the traumatic event. They will also want you to discuss what you are feeling that day and how the event affects you. Then, they will do the hand motions again.


Your therapist will continue the sweeping hand movements until you can reprocess your memories into learning experiences. The purpose of this method is the same as the rhythmic sets via tapping and sounds. It is to bring about positive beliefs related to memories and change the way that you see yourself in relation to specific memories or events.


You may experience intense emotions and feelings during the EMDR therapy sessions. However, when you are finished, hopefully, you will feel less upset or disturbed by the events that have taken place in your life.

How Quickly Does EMDR Therapy Work?

Just as with the follow-up therapy, there is no one answer that fits everyone. However, the number of sessions that most clients need to work through past memories is between 3 and 10. Each of the sessions will last around 1 to 1 ½ hours.


Most of the time, people who are struggling from just one adulthood trauma can receive treatment and help in about 5 hours of EMDR therapy. However, those who have had many traumatic experiences, especially those in childhood, are likely to need more therapy sessions to reprocess the events and work on creating positive beliefs for each experience/memory.


Regardless of the number of EMDR therapy sessions you attend, most people who use this type of treatment in their recovery, find that by the end of 6 months, they are feeling much better. So, overall, this type of treatment is quite fast and very effective for people with anxiety and PTSD.

Do You Need EMDR Therapy?

How do you know if you need EMDR therapy? Well, if you are looking for a treatment for PTSD, anxiety or addictions that has no side effects and offers you many benefits, this might be the best therapy/treatment. You can talk with the team here at Harmony Oaks Recovery to find out more about EMDR therapy and whether it would be a good fit for you.


Contact us today, here at Harmony Oaks Recovery Center, to start EMDR therapy and other treatments for mental health disorders and addictions.

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