What is EMDR?

What and Who is EMDR for?

EMDR, also known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy was first developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro. It is a well-supported, extensively researched, and efficient psychotherapy approach used to treat a variety of distressing life events and issues. This clinical treatment approach has been endorsed by many international organizations as an effective treatment modality including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the World Health Organization (WHO). EMDR therapy can benefit clients exposed to trauma, violence and who experience stress-related difficulties, mood issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and panic attacks, eating disorders, as well as grief and loss, chronic medical conditions, and pain. 

How EMDR Works

EMDR is a complex, systematic and integrative psychotherapeutic approach that draws upon multiple psychological orientations including cognitive-behavioral, motivational interviewing, somatic and psychodynamic therapies. 

EMDR is an eight-phase model that takes the client through a process that is thoughtfully and intentionally developed for clients to work through the alleviation of distress associated with their memories. Some of the eight phases include history taking, client preparation, assessment and desensitization. 

At the crux of EMDR treatment is the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model that allows information to be adaptively processed to a point at which the associations made to a distressing incident are integrated into positive cognitions and emotions. With the use of directed eye movements, the information processing system is activated. Eventually, clients may find resolution in that helpful learnings are made available for use in the future.

What Clients Need to Know about EMDR

It is important to consult with an EMDR-trained therapist as this is a mental health intervention. You could ask your therapist questions about whether EMDR would be an effective approach for you and address any questions or concerns you may have about it. It is also important that you feel comfortable collaborating with your therapist.

Written by:
Isabelle Ong

Clinical Mental Health Counsellor for Individuals & Groups, Children, Adolescents and Couples
SACAC Counselling


EMDR Institute, Inc. (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.emdr.com/

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. (2017). American
Psychological Association. Retrieved from:

“WHAT IS EMDR? I hear you wave your fingers near someone’s eyes?”


Many types of therapy exist and only handful of these have been scientifically rigorously tested, so it’s hard to make choices about what works. One therapy has drawn attention from the media, practitioners and mental health consumers. This treatment is a mouthful to say Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, so we call it “EMDR,”.

It was discovered by serendipity in 1987 by Francine Shapiro in the USA.  Initially developed to help clients overcome anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is now recognised by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a first line treatment for PTSD.  It has been applied to other conditions including depression, grief, phobias and panic disorder.

EMDR works by helping you process stuck negative experiences that continue to affect you, even though the actual event is often long in the past. It involves:

  • Getting to know you, history taking, developing some trust, setting goals, using questionnaires and homework tasks.
  • Developing internal resources to strengthen your ability to connect to positive emotions.
  • Tracing back memories; For example, if you’re having anxiety problems, thinking back to the earliest time you felt this intense anxiety sensation. Exploring the emotions and body sensations brought up by these memories that are often quite strong.
  • Reprocessing using “bilateral stimulation. BLS is alternating between the left and right side of your body by moving the therapists finger back and forth while you follow with your eyes. It seems to facilitate information processing in a way that is similar to REM sleep. You go along for the ride and see what thoughts, memories, body sensations and emotions arise. Some people are quiet, whilst others talk. After about 2 minutes, the therapist will stop and ask you to share what came up for you. EMDR processing continues until the distress around the issue reduces. How many sessions this takes depends on the person and the memory. It can be very quick.
  • Where there used to be upset and a negative self-belief, the therapist will work on installing a positive belief about you and your abilities.
  • The therapist will do sets of BSL with you to clear body tension as the body can continue to hold onto negativity after your mind has let it go.

EMDR results often generalize, which means that once you’ve processed one upsetting memory, other related memories often subside.  We offer EMDR at SACAC.

Written by:
Dr. Ronina Stevens

DClinPsych, BSc (Hons)
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling