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  • The Counselling Space

EMDR Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Photo by johnhain on Pixabay‍ EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a groundbreaking psychotherapy technique that has been helping individuals overcome the emotional distress caused by traumatic life experiences. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various aspects of EMDR therapy, its effectiveness, and how it can benefit those suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other psychological issues. Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to EMDR Therapy

  2. History of EMDR

  3. EMDR as a Treatment for PTSD and Other Psychological Issues

  4. The 8-Phase EMDR Treatment Process

  5. Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy

  6. Advantages of EMDR Therapy

  7. Disadvantages and Controversies Surrounding EMDR

  8. EMDR Therapy in Canada

  9. Alternative Treatments for PTSD and Psychological Issues

  10. Conclusion

Introduction to EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy is a nontraditional form of psychotherapy that uses rapid, rhythmic eye movements to help individuals heal from the emotional distress caused by traumatic events. Unlike conventional talk therapy or medication, EMDR focuses on the patient's own eye movements to dampen the power of emotionally charged memories, ultimately leading to a reduction in distress levels.

The technique was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1989. She discovered that her own negative emotions lessened as her eyes darted from side to side. Further experimentation led to the development of EMDR therapy, which has since been used to treat millions of people worldwide.

History of EMDR EMDR therapy was created by Dr. Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, in the late 1980s. Her discovery of the eye movement technique was somewhat serendipitous, as she noticed a decrease in her own negative emotions while her eyes moved rapidly from side to side during a walk in the woods. This observation led her to further investigate the relationship between eye movements and emotional distress, eventually developing EMDR therapy.

Since its inception, EMDR has grown in popularity and is now practiced by more than 100,000 clinicians worldwide. Over the past three decades, numerous research studies have been conducted to examine the effectiveness of EMDR therapy in treating PTSD and other psychological issues.

EMDR as a Treatment for PTSD and Other Psychological Issues EMDR therapy is most commonly used to treat individuals with PTSD, a condition that often results from experiences such as military combat, physical assault, rape, or car accidents. However, EMDR has also been used experimentally to treat a variety of other psychological problems, including:

  • Panic attacks

  • Eating disorders

  • Addictions

  • Anxiety (e.g., discomfort with public speaking or dental procedures)

EMDR therapy is not limited to treating PTSD; it can also be effective in addressing the "everyday" memories that contribute to low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and various other issues that may bring someone to seek therapy.

The 8-Phase EMDR Treatment Process EMDR therapy consists of eight distinct phases, each designed to help the patient process and eventually transform painful memories and emotions. The phases are as follows:

  1. History-taking and Treatment Planning: The therapist works with the client to identify targets for treatment, including past memories, current triggers, and future goals.

  2. Preparation: The therapist explains the treatment process to the client and ensures they have adequate resources for managing their emotions throughout the therapy.

  3. Assessment: The therapist helps the client activate the targeted memory by identifying and assessing its components, including images, cognitions, emotions, and body sensations.

  4. Desensitization: The client focuses on the memory while engaging in eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (BLS) techniques, with the goal of reducing the memory's distressing impact.

  5. Installation: The therapist strengthens the client's preferred positive cognition (e.g., "I survived and I am strong") in relation to the targeted memory.

  6. Body Scan: The client observes their physical response while thinking of the incident and the positive cognition, identifying any residual somatic distress.

  7. Closure: The therapist ensures the client feels safe and contained at the end of the session, providing specific instructions and techniques if necessary.

  8. Re-evaluation: In the next session, the therapist evaluates the client's current psychological state, treatment effects, and any new memories that have emerged, working with the client to identify targets for the current session.

Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy EMDR therapy has been the subject of numerous research studies since its inception, with many demonstrating its effectiveness in treating PTSD and other psychological issues.

For example, some studies have shown that 84-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have PTSD after just three 90-minute EMDR sessions. Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple-trauma victims no longer had PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In a study involving combat veterans, 77% were found to be free of PTSD after 12 sessions of EMDR therapy.

These and other research findings have led to EMDR therapy being recognized as an effective treatment for trauma by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense.

Advantages of EMDR Therapy EMDR therapy offers several advantages over traditional talk therapy and medication-based treatment approaches:

  • Rapid Results: EMDR therapy can produce significant improvements in a relatively short amount of time, with many individuals experiencing relief from PTSD symptoms in just a few sessions.

  • Long-lasting Effects: The positive outcomes of EMDR therapy are typically long-lasting, as the treatment process helps clients transform painful memories and emotions on an emotional level.

  • Minimal Homework: Unlike some other therapies that require significant homework and self-reflection outside of sessions, EMDR therapy relies primarily on in-session work, making it more accessible for some clients.

  • Biological Basis: EMDR therapy is believed to be connected to the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is an essential process for maintaining mental health and well-being.

Disadvantages and Controversies Surrounding EMDR Despite the numerous advantages of EMDR therapy, some potential drawbacks and controversies exist:

  • Limited Research: Critics argue that many EMDR studies involve small sample sizes, which may limit the generalizability of their findings. However, other researchers have demonstrated the treatment's effectiveness through meta-analyses that combine data from multiple studies.

  • Controversial Treatment Approach: EMDR therapy's nontraditional approach to addressing psychological issues has led to skepticism among some mental health professionals. Nonetheless, the technique has been increasingly accepted and adopted over time, as more research has supported its effectiveness.

EMDR Therapy in Canada EMDR therapy has gained recognition and popularity in Canada over the years, with many therapists offering this treatment option to their clients. The Counselling Space is one such provider, dedicated to helping individuals overcome their emotional distress and trauma through EMDR therapy.

Canadian mental health professionals interested in offering EMDR therapy to their clients can receive training through organizations such as the EMDR Institute or the Trauma Recovery EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs.

Alternative Treatments for PTSD and Psychological Issues While EMDR therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for many individuals, it is essential to consider alternative treatment options for those who may not respond to or prefer other approaches. Some other treatments for PTSD and psychological issues include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A widely used evidence-based treatment that focuses on identifying and changing maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors.

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: A form of CBT that involves gradual exposure to trauma-related memories and situations, helping clients confront and process their fears.

  • Pharmacotherapy: Medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers can be used in conjunction with therapy to help manage symptoms and improve overall well-being.


EMDR therapy is a unique and effective treatment option for individuals suffering from PTSD and other psychological issues. Its eight-phase process helps clients process and transform painful memories, leading to long-lasting emotional healing. While EMDR therapy may not be the best fit for everyone, it has helped millions of people worldwide overcome their emotional distress and move forward with their lives. For those in Canada seeking EMDR therapy or other mental health services, providers like The Counselling Space offer compassionate and evidence-based care to help clients on their journey to healing.

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