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What Exactly IS EMDR?

What is EMDR?

The mind can heal itself naturally, in the same way the body does. Much of the natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, specifically during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilizing this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since, then EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems and age groups. The research demonstrated EMDR’s effectiveness in reducing/eliminating symptoms and in improving symptoms related to presenting problems and disorder.

EMDR therapy has evolved to become a comprehensive psychotherapy, guided by Francine Shapiro’s adaptive information processing model. Her model views most mental health disorders as stemming from unprocessed earlier disturbing events. There are now more than 44 randomized controlled trials that have investigated EMDR treatment of PTSD, early traumatic stress, and traumatized children. Additionally, there are 28 randomized controlled trials which have evaluated its use with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis, anxiety disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance use disorder and pain. Eight randomized controlled studies demonstrate effectively eliminating clinical symptoms related to trauma in children.

What is an EMDR session like ?

EMDR utilized the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment and development of a treatment plan, the client is asked specific questions about a specific disturbing memory or experience. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist's finger moving backward and forward across your visual field, also known as bilateral stimulation (BLS). The eye movement will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you had during each of the sets of eye movement. Experience during a session may include change in thought, image and feeling. With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.

For Children, Adolescents & Teens….
  • Clinicians must provide a Safe psychological environment. Clinicians must use the language of the child to explain EMDR therapy. Clinicians are also prepared for challenges such as short attention spans or concentration problems. Incorporating play or creative techniques helps engage the client and make the treatment more fun and clear.

  • History taking phase may involve the parents, guardians, caregivers and family members. The initial 3 step process involves history-taking phase and presenting problems without the child present, 2nd session with parent, caregiver or guardian and child together, lastly the child only.

  • Clinicians must make sure the child is able to move from a negative emotional state to a positive one through use of Safe Place or any other state change strategy. Clinicians must hold the child's attention so several techniques may be used to create bilateral stimulation or BLS (tactile with fingertip tapping on child's hands or knees or gentle squeeze with child's hands or feet, drumming, Butterfly hugs, etc. ).

* Language used will be developmentally appropriate. Verbal or nonverbal communication may be used. Example: Instead of asking for an image that represents the worst part of an incident, the clinician may ask for the “yuckiest” part or “mixed up thought” . Children can convey their story in various ways with either a verbal, play or creative process (eg.g.,drawings, painting, using animals, dolls or puppet, sand tray, using a doll house or other setting) for a child to create the “story” of what happened that was a traumatic or unfavorable event.

What can EMDR be used for?

PTSD * Anxiety & Panic Attacks * Depresion * Anger * Phobias * Sleep Problems * Grief and Loss * Addiction * Pain, including phantom limb pain * Performance Anxiety * Feelings of worthlessness/low self-esteem

Children, Adolescent and Teens:

Trauma and adverse life events include bullying; sexual, emotional and physical abuse; medical problems, surgeries, and treatments; loss of or separation from parents or parental divorce; and placement outside the home.

Can anyone benefit from EMDR?

EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of your past traumas and allowing you to live more fully in the present. It is not, however, appropriate for everyone. The process is rapid, and any disturbing experiences, if they occur at all, last for a comparatively short period of time.

Nevertheless, you need to be aware of, and willing to experience the strong feelings and disturbing thoughts that sometimes occur during sessions.

Children, Adolescents & Teens who suffer from complex trauma often exhibit symptoms similar to those of adults, in addition to lying, stealing, defiance and aggressive behaviors. Children with a history of complex trauma need supportive parents or other significant adults to provide co-regulation and emotional support for addressing painful memories, as well as help in understanding their own inner worlds. Goal of EMDR is to provide a child with a sense of self-healing and self-efficacy.

How long does treatment take?

EMDR can be a brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy treatment plan. EMDR can be easily integrated with other approaches in which your therapist might be trained, such as Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Positive effects have been seen after one session of EMDR.

Children, Adolescents & Teens duration of treatment depends on several factors such as developmental stage and severity of presenting problems. The use of techniques for facilitating concentration, produce rapid positive effects for this specialized population.

Will I remain in control and empowered?

During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little a possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.


Professional Woman leaning on Window still
Denise Flores Guillen

Denise is EMDR & Play EMDR trained. I work with all ages as young as 5 years old. My creativity and flexibility have been vital to my success in meeting the client where they are in their language and developmental stage. My goal is to create a positive experience with EMDR with all ages and populations.

Click HERE to visit Denise's Bio


Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movemnt Desentitization and Reprocesing (EMDR) Therapy: Basic Principle, Prototcols and Procedures. Third Edition.

Maxfield, L., (2019). A Clinician’s Guide to the Efficacy of EMDR Therapy. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, Volume 13, Number 3, 2019.

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