a conversation between two individuals

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is interactive psychotherapy used to help people heal from the psychological effects of trauma and disturbing life experiences.

Multiple studies have shown that EMDR can expedite the effects of other modalities such as talk and group therapies by effectively unblocking traumatic events and allowing patients to process and heal more quickly.

After a traumatic event, it’s natural for the brain’s fight or flight response to repress the memory and create a mental block to protect that person from the trauma they experienced. While this is an understandable response, it inhibits long-term healing. To properly heal, those memories need to be unblocked and reframed. It’s similar to a physical block. If you get a splinter in your finger, that splinter needs to be removed so the wound can be treated and healed properly.

So many studies on EMDR have shown positive results for people diagnosed with PTSD that EMDR has been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense as an effective form of trauma treatment.

What conditions does EMDR help treat?

  • Overwhelming traumatic memories
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use disorders
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Grief/Loss

How does EMDR work?

The objective of EMDR is to help patients unblock and process traumatic events in a safe environment. The clinician encourages the patient to hold aspects of the traumatic event in their mind as they track the movements of the clinician’s hand with their eyes while the clinician utilizes stimulation such as clickers, buzzers, a light bar, tapping, among others. This process is called Bilateral Stimulation. Researchers from Harvard believes that this works because it activates biological mechanisms related to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

When EMDR therapy is effective, the patient’s emotional reaction to the painful, traumatic events can be transformed. For example, a rape victim who associated feelings of shame, horror, and disgust with what happened can shift to feeling strong and empowered as a survivor.

What are the Eight Phases of EMDR Treatment?

1.Initial history, discovery, and treatment planning:

We will walk with residents through their history and develop a treatment plan. This includes talking through current issues, triggers, or memories that are causing distress. This is where we will identify the target event to focus on for future EMDR treatment sessions.


Our residents will get to know their EMDR therapist. We will talk through EMDR and what to expect throughout the process.


The resident will identify the self-belief or emotion that they carry when remembering the target event. We then work together to pick a statement that opposes the existing self-belief or emotion.


We use bilateral stimulation like eye movements, tapping, or light bars to engage the lower brainstem as the resident is thinking about their triggering event. With stimulation, we reprocess the memory, installing safe and peaceful thoughts around the target event.


We work to solidify the new belief about the traumatic event. After reprocessing the memory, the resident will have empowering associations with the memory and be able to move forward. 

6.Body scan:

After reframing their emotion around the traumatic event, we will ask the resident to think about the target event to find any residual tension in the body. Wherever we identify tension is where we will focus the next session of EMDR. Healing is a process and is not always linear. It’s OK to reframe an event and still carry tension in your body at first. It takes time. 


We will check in with the residents to ensure that when they leave the session, they feel more peaceful than when it began. Sometimes a target event takes multiple sessions to process. When this is the case, the EMDR clinician will work with the resident to develop self-soothing techniques that they can use to cope with any emotions that come up before the next session.


This is the first step in each new EMDR session. We talk with each resident about the progress they have made so far and identify areas that need more focus.

Some of our residents will experience immediate relief after just one session of EMDR while others may need to complete a few sessions before they can fully reframe a traumatic event. Everyone’s healing process is different and there is no “correct” number of sessions. Each person has a “window of tolerance” for EMDR and not everyone is ready for all eight phases of treatment. If someone goes beyond their window of tolerance, it causes flooding which is detrimental to recovery.

Is EMDR right for you?

If you have experienced a traumatic event that you have difficulty talking about, EMDR may be a good option. It’s a great companion to other forms of therapy because it helps unblock traumatic events and allows you to process them in group or individual talk therapy sessions.

After you settle into Sabino Recovery, our team will meet with you to tailor your treatment plan around your specific needs. If EMDR sounds like it will be a good option for you, we will begin the eight-phase EMDR treatment plan and closely monitor your progress to make any necessary adjustments along the way.