What is EMDR Therapy?

Developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This treatment was initially created to reduce the distress and turmoil associated with trauma and ongoing PTSD symptoms.

EMDR is a therapeutic approach that recognizes that experiencing trauma and its negative impact does not mean you are broken or damaged. Instead, it simply means that the experience is stored in the wrong form of memory, leaving you stuck and unable to move forward in an integrated and healthy way. Through EMDR, you can feel at peace with the past, empowered in the present, and able to make more desirable choices for the future. After a successful course of EMDR therapy, you can remember the trauma without being emotionally or physically flooded by it.

Successful EMDR treatment can help people heal from trauma at a significantly faster rate than more conventional forms of talk therapy.

Who Can Provide EMDR Treatment?

Therapists who want to use EMDR therapy must receive intensive training in this practice. First of all, they must have a qualifying degree in psychology, counseling, social work, etc. Furthermore, therapists need specific training and certification in EMDR to work with clients. This additional education provides them with a comprehensive overview of delivering effective, quality care.

Ideally, you should seek a therapist who has completed an EMDRIA-approved training. More advanced EMDR clinicians are EMDRIA-certified. These mental health professionals have conducted numerous clinical EMDR sessions and have completed additional hours in continuing education and consultation. Likewise, EMDRIA-certified therapists must stay up-to-date with current EMDR-specific continuing education to maintain certification.

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Who Should Consider EMDR Therapy?

People struggling with PTSD can benefit tremendously from EMDR. Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma via flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares
  • Feeling numb about the trauma
  • Avoiding people, places, or objects reminiscent of the trauma
  • Experiencing difficulty recalling significant elements of the trauma
  • Feeling deep shame, fear, horror, and anger
  • Blaming yourself or others more than you should
  • Struggling to have positive emotions
  • Increased hypervigilance (restlessness, paranoia, jumpiness, feeling ‘keyed up’)
  • Problems with focus and concentration
  • Sleep issues

What Does the Research Say?

Since its inception, many therapists and clients have deemed EMDR counseling as a miracle breakthrough in healing trauma. Indeed, the research on EMDR has proven it to be effective in treating PTSD.

One study examining randomized controlled EMDR trials found that 70% of the studies reported EMDR as more effective than conventional cognitive-behavioral therapy. Additional research on children and adolescents with PTSD found that EMDR therapy was superior to waitlist and placebo conditions.

What Happens in an EMDR Session?

EMDR therapy focuses on learning (and reconciling) parts of the past, present, and future. When we’re using EMDR in counseling sessions, sessions are focused and structured. We follow a method that we know helps relieve PTSD or anxiety symptoms and helps you meet your own individual goals.

EMDR often typically follows a predictable set of phases. You and your therapist will work through these phases together to help you cope with trauma and PTSD symptoms, process the memories that are keeping you stuck, and help you begin moving forward.

Phase One

Assessing Target Memories

In the first phase, therapists explore and assess your needs to develop an appropriate treatment plan. You and your therapist collaborate together to identify the best targets for your EMDR work. These targets may include certain traumatic memories or current triggers.

Phase Two


The next phase of treatment entails discussing and assessing stress management techniques. All successful trauma treatment requires the client’s understanding and willingness to use distress tolerance skills.

You will use these skills during the sessions and in-between the sessions. During this phase, your therapist will also provide you with education about EMDR therapy procedures.

Phase Three

Assessing Target Memories

This phase in your EMDR treatment entails activating the target memory. An EMDR therapist achieves this by engaging in:

  • Vivid visual images related to the memory
  • Negative beliefs about the self (usually due to the trauma)
  • Bodily sensations and emotions

Your therapist will use evidence-based scales to evaluate your thoughts and emotions during this phase.

Phase Four - Seven:

Processing Towards Resolution

During these phases, the therapist guides you into focusing on the memories. Simultaneously, the therapist will be engaging in sets of bilateral stimulation (taps, tones, or eye movements).  

After the stimulation, your therapist will ask about the thoughts and feelings you experience. Upon identifying them, you may then refocus on that traumatic association. Throughout this process, your therapist will help ground you in the present moment before moving forward if you become overwhelmed or distressed.

As you move through the treatment process, you can eventually become desensitized to the traumatic memory. In other words, the traumatic memory has a lessened emotional hold on you. It becomes possible to remember what happened without feeling so overwhelmed. You also replace the negative thoughts with more positive thoughts.

Phase Eight

Resolution and Evaluation

EMDR therapy ends with a brief closure and evaluation. Your therapist will ask how you are feeling and how you are doing as a whole. Together, you and your trauma therapist will determine appropriate, future targets if needed.

How Long Does EMDR Therapy Take?

The length of EMDR work ranges depending on the individual and your specific PTSD or trauma symptoms. It can take time to feel safe with your therapist. However, building a positive relationship is important for successful trauma treatment. Therefore, it’s important to take time to build that relationship with your EMDR therapist before starting EMDR therapy.

It is also important to make sure you are fully resourced and supported before beginning any trauma processing. For some, this preparation phase can be completed quickly, especially if you have a history of receiving counseling support before. For others, several months can be spent preparing you for the potentially destabilizing effects of trauma processing.

While EMDR therapy works faster than standard talk therapy for trauma, trauma work as a whole is not a quick fix. Single incident traumas resolve more quickly than complex, systemic, childhood or repeated traumas. 

A successful course of EMDR therapy involves completing all eight phases for past, present, and future events and triggers.

EMDR Intensives

EMDR Intensives are a short-term, intensive style of EMDR therapy where you focus on one or two traumas or on one specific traumatic period in your lifetime. These sessions last a minimum of 5 hours over the course of 2-3 days. EMDR Intensives are a good fit for individuals who 

  • Are already in individual therapy or have received quality and effective therapy in the past
  • Have experienced a recent traumatic event within the last 6 months
  • Have a single-incident traumatic event that occurred in adulthood, and/or
  • Have a good support system and can take time off work and other responsibilities to pursue trauma healing

What else does EMDR Treat?

In addition to trauma, EMDR therapy can bring relief to individuals dealing with -

  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Phobias
  • Stress Reduction
  • Grief
  • Complicated Grief
  • Disturbing Memories
  • Feelings of Inadequacy
Where Can I Learn More About EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is considered an evidence based trauma and PTSD treatment. Learn more about EMDR therapy by browsing our Trauma articles. You can also visit this resource page developed by the EMDR International Association.

EMDR is Recognized Worldwide

EMDR is recognized as an effective form of trauma treatment by the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the World Health Organization. In short, we use EMDR in our counseling practice, because it works. If you are looking for help getting "unstuck," resolving past trauma and reducing symptoms of anxiety, EMDR therapy is the way to go.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

William Faulknew

Begin Therapy in the Nashville area

If you live in the Nashville area and are ready to explore therapy options for healing trauma, we are here to help. To begin individual counseling, follow these three steps:

1. Contact our counseling office or call 615-235-3508 to schedule a free 30 minute consultation

2. Begin therapy and move forward with your life!

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Schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see if therapy with Willow Counseling is right for you.

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Begin individual therapy at Willow Counseling. Schedule an appointment to meet with one of our compassionate counselors.

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