EMDR Treatment for Trauma? What Makes It Worth Trying?

By Linda Ramsey, MA, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate

Trauma – caused by abuse, natural disasters, or perhaps battlefield experiences – is a widespread problem. Studies have shown that unprocessed memories of the trauma are often at the base of the negative thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations a trauma victim experiences.

Professionals utilize several effective therapies for treating trauma, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) or psychodynamic therapies. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is one that has become popular in more recent years and shows promising results.

If you’re a trauma sufferer, is EMDR treatment for trauma worth trying?

To make an informed decision, consider what EMDR is, and how it treats trauma:

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is a powerful psychotherapy that can help those suffering from trauma reprocess the pain of their experiences and return to emotional health.

It consists of an 8-phase treatment that helps identify the experiences that lay at the base of your emotional problems. By accessing the unprocessed memories of an experience and activating the brain’s information-processing system, EMDR treatment for trauma addresses the root of your issues.

  • Phases 1-3 lay the groundwork for the treatment plan and reprocessing procedure.
  • Phases 4-6 use bilateral eye movements for processing and installing positive self-beliefs. This part is not complete unless you can think about the target memory without feeling any tension.
  • Phases 7-8 make sure that you feel better and continue to feel in control between sessions.

This step-by-step procedure of EMDR therapy helps the therapist and you to monitor your progress. The amount of sessions needed to resolve your emotional problem depends much on the level of trauma that exists.

How does EMDR treat trauma?

Your brain is wired to transfer episodic memory into semantic memory networks during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During this process, your brain stores the meaning of an experience, while eliminating any negative aspects of it, such as negative thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

However, some experiences can be so traumatic that they upset this natural processing system. The brain ends up processing the event incorrectly, storing the unpleasant aspects with the rest of the information. Any future encounter with a similar situation can trigger the unprocessed memory, which then resurfaces with all negative aspects attached.

EMDR treatment for trauma takes the memory of those disturbing events and makes the appropriate connections in your brain. In other words, it re-processes the memory to allow you to return to emotional balance. How?

During EMDR treatment, you focus on a troubling memory, then your therapist initiates bilateral eye movements either by having you follow their two fingers held up and moved back and forth in front of you, or using pulsing tappers held in your hands. This stimulates the same processes your brain uses during REM sleep. This allows your brain to naturally make the associations and neural connections that are needed to process the traumatic memory, namely without the negative aspects.

Why is EMDR Treatment for Trauma Worth Trying?

Consider a few points:

  • Many randomized studies have proven that EMDR is a highly effective treatment for trauma. In fact, changes can occur in only weeks, depending on the scope of your trauma, that often take months or years with other types of therapy.
  • While it is necessary to establish a trusting relationship with your therapist, the procedure used in EMDR therapy does not require you to relive in detail or give deeply private information about the traumatic experience. All the specifics happen in your mind. Your brain is doing the reprocessing, the therapist is only the facilitator.
  • An EMDR therapist cannot give subconscious suggestions to your mind during treatment. They can’t make you discard appropriate negative feelings (such as disgust over a rape). Neither can they make you believe anything positive that is not appropriate (such as suggesting you need to learn self-defense methods).

EMDR treatment for trauma can help your mind recover from emotional trauma as fully as your body can heal from physical trauma. EMDR can work well enough to help your painful memories be transformed into a sense of empowerment.


Interested in discussing how EMDR Therapy might help you? Click here for information on how to contact Linda at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin (RCC Austin).