FAQ About EMDR

"Flew to NY and...for the first time in 40 years I flew without any fear even in the middle of patches of rough turbulence.    What a terrific sensation to be able to relax on a plane.  It seemed so natural, and yet all those years it wasn't, it was at minimum extremely nerve wracking and at worse, terrifying.   This is all thanks to you and EMDR." --CT 

Done right, EMDR is probably the most effective psychotherapeutic treatment ever discovered.  Those of us who have used it extensively and effectively have seen person after person transform their symptoms, their experience of themselves and their lives right before our eyes--sometimes in minutes, other times in a much shorter period than other treatments.  EMDR causes permanent healing and without having any symptoms to manage when treatment is finished.  I was first trained in EMDR in 1992, and now maybe you can imagine why I'm so excited about it, and want every therapist and every person suffering from trauma to know about it!

I hope the Q & A below will answer your questions about EMDR, but if they don't, please write or call and I will explain more.

At the bottom of this page is a video a colleague, Colleen West, MFT from EMDRinAction.com made, demonstrating the process of EMDR.

I've heard about it, but I don't understand it. What is EMDR?

EMDR was invented in the late 1980's by a woman named Francine Shapiro, who was getting her PhD in psychology from Stanford, at the time.  She stumbled upon the idea that if people move their eyes back and forth, their brains seem to process thoughts and emotions better than they do without the eye movements.  She hypothesized that REM sleep, a cycle of normal sleep during which we dream and our eyes move rapidly, was related to and evidence in support of her discovery.
 
She perfected the technique, and used it in the treatment of Vietnam veterans who had never recovered from the trauma of being in battle.  She discovered that when they followed her moving fingers with their eyes, while remembering the traumas, they rapidly resolved the internal issues that were keeping them from moving on in their lives.  She kept perfecting the technique, and found that it worked with people who had been through other traumas, such as auto accidents, rape, childhood sexual assault, and so on.  Then she began teaching licensed therapists to do this.  She personally trained thousands of us over the next few years, and then trained people to train, and the whole thing took off.
 
Many of us were skeptical in the beginning, but were amazed by the results.  Some therapists discovered other uses for it, other ways to augment the process, and other variations in the technique.  The therapists who used it were amazed at the speed and thoroughness of this way of relieving people of symptoms--from trauma symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, troubled relationships, etc, to all kinds of anxiety, such as phobias, as well as self-esteem problems, addictions and more.  Therapists also discovered it could be useful in building strengths people needed, like the ability to nurture themselves or stand up for themselves, for example.  Some therapists are also using it now to enhance performance--for executives, atheletes, performers, etc.
 
Because we discovered years ago that eye movements aren't the only form of alternating bi-lateral stimulation that work, many of us use other methods.  There methods include tones or music that alternate between ears, hand-held machines that vibrate, alternating between hands, and the one I have had the most success with, which is alternating tapping on knees, backs of hands, feet or shoulders.

 
  


It's hard to believe that moving my eyes around will cure anything. Is there any research on this?

Yes there is.  There has been a fair amount of research, more than most therapeutic techniques, and it has proven to be very effective.  In addition, the most amazing thing has happened in these past 20 years since it was invented.  There has been a huge amount of neurological research that has revealed how our brains operate, and this information matches exactly with the hypotheses and theories developed to explain why EMDR works.

Before the research, we believed that people all had different parts, or ego states.  Each one represented a skill, a feeling, a memory, a way of coping, a part of our personality, an area of knowledge--an aspect of us.  We guessed that while these parts can be cut off from each other, EMDR connected them, so they could share information.  Once information was shared, the trauma could be resolved.  For example, a memory of being molested as a child can be cut off from consciousness (the person doesn't remember the incident), or cut off from feelings (the person remembers, but doesn't feel anything when remembering) or cut off from adult parts and the information and skills the adult parts have (so when the memory gets activated by something similar to the incident, the person acts feels and believes more or less as they did at the age when the incident occurred).

The research revealed that what we hypothesized, was accurate.  We now know that each trauma creates a bundle of neurons devoted to that trauma--storing all the information the person had at the worst point in the trauma.  These bundles are more or less cut off from communication with the rest of the brain--meaning the rest of the person's information, new information that occurred after the trauma, abilities the person develops after the trauma, etc. don't affect or change that separated part of the brain, which continues to hold the beliefs and feelings that the person had in the middle of the trauma.
 
To make matters worse, the bundles that form during trauma are stored in the memory system we used exclusively when we were a baby, before developing our later-child and adult memory.  This baby memory cannot distinguish past, present and future, has limited verbal ability, and has other limitations.  So these bundles of neurons in this baby-capacity memory never realize the trauma is over, or that they are safe now, or that they have more resources now, or that the perpetrator is dead, and so on.  When this bundle is active, it is as if the trauma is occurring in the present.  When something similar to the trauma occurs to the person, this bundle of neurons receives this single communication, activates, and takes over the brain.  This is what we call a flashback in which the person feels as if the trauma is occurring now.  This is why triggered survivors of childhood abuse suddenly begin feeling, acting, sounding, thinking and expressing themselves as if they were the age when the trauma occurred.  This is also why Vietnam veterans did things (after returning home) like duck under cover when they heard a helicoptor overhead.
We still don't know for sure why moving one's eyes allows communication between neural bundles, and we now know that this process works not just with eye movements, but with any bi-lateral stimulation of the senses.  That means alternating sounds from one ear to the other and back, and alternating tapping, or vibrations from one side of the body to the other and back work as well as eye movements.  Neurological research is beginning to make sense of this as well.

While the research on the effectiveness of EMDR in treating PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is extensive, less has been done with treatment of other diagnoses.  Here are a few examples of research on treating depression with EMDR:

•Bae, H., Kim, D. & Park, Y.C. (2008). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for adolescent depression. Psychiatry Investigation, 5, 60-65.
Processing of etiological disturbing memories, triggers and templates resulted in complete remission of Major Depressive Disorder in two teenagers. Treatment duration was 3-7 sessions and effects were maintained at follow-up.

• Schneider, J., Hofmann, A., Rost, C., & Shapiro, F. (2007). EMDR and phantom limb pain: Case study, theoretical implications, and treatment guidelines. Journal of EMDR Science and Practice, 1, 31-45.
Detailed presentation of case treated by EMDR that resulted in complete elimination of PTSD, depression and phantom limb pain with effects maintained at 18-month follow-up.

•Raboni, M.R., Tufik, S., and Suchecki, D. (2006). Treatment of PTSD by eye movement desensitization and reprocessing improves sleep quality, quality of life and perception of stress. Annals of the New YorkAcademyof Science, 1071, 508-513.
Specifically citing the hypothesis that EMDR induces processing effects similar to REM sleep (see also Stickgold, 2002, 2008), polysomnograms indicated a change in sleep patterns post treatment, and improvement on all measures including anxiety, depression, and quality of life after a mean of five sessions. 
 


How long does EMDR treatment take?

This of course varies with every person.  Generally, when a person had good parenting, so possesses the emotional resources inside that good parenting provides, EMDR goes much faster than when those internal resources have to be developed first.  The good news about that is that a variation of EMDR can install resources parents didn't provide.  If a person has a single incident of trauma, such as a car accident, with no history of trauma, EMDR can be successful very quickly--sometimes in one or two sessions.  When people have been traumatized repeatedly, EMDR can take much longer, but still much less time than other treatments.


Is EMDR effective?

EMDR can be an amazingly powerful therapy.  Like all psychotherapies, there is an art to getting it right.  So it doesn't work with every person on every issue every time.  But, I have worked with people who were able to resolve symptoms they'd had for many years, or even most of their lives--sometimes in one or two sessions.  I've worked with people with sexual assault in their history who became completely comfortable with sex, after years of being uncomfortable.  I've worked with people who've been depressed most of their lives until, combined with talk therapy, EMDR helped them become much happier and more functional, and have more hope and ambition.  I've worked with people who have been operating on a distorted belief they acquired as a child during a trauma.  Without even knowing they had the belief (like that they will be punished if they are successful, for example), they have become aware of the belief and it's distortion during EMDR, and suddenly their whole outlook on life has changed.  I've seen people who'd had an abortion realize they'd decided never to let themselves get pregnant again, so were not able to get pregnant years later when they wanted to.  Seeing that decision and consciously revising it through EMDR allowed them to get pregnant.  There's no guarantee, but EMDR has helped many people tremendously.
 
For all of this in video, check out this great summary of EMDR:
 

EMDR can be an amazingly powerful therapy.  Like all psychotherapies, there is an art to getting it right.  So it doesn't work with every person on every issue every time.  But, I have worked with people who were able to resolve symptoms they'd had for many years, or even most of their lives--sometimes in one or two sessions.  I've worked with people with sexual assault in their history who became completely comfortable with sex, after years of being uncomfortable.  I've worked with people who've been depressed most of their lives until, combined with talk therapy, EMDR helped them become much happier and more functional, and have more hope and ambition.  I've worked with people who have been operating on a distorted belief they acquired as a child during a trauma.  Without even knowing they had the belief (like that they will be punished if they are successful, for example), they have become aware of the belief and it's distortion during EMDR, and suddenly their whole outlook on life has changed.  I've seen people who'd had an abortion realize they'd decided never to let themselves get pregnant again, so were not able to get pregnant years later when they wanted to.  Seeing that decision and consciously revising it through EMDR allowed them to get pregnant.  There's no guarantee, but EMDR has helped many people tremendously.
 
For all of this in video, check out this great summary of EMDR: EMDR can be an amazingly powerful therapy.  Like all psychotherapies, there is an art to getting it right.  So it doesn't work with every person on every issue every time.  But, I have worked with people who were able to resolve symptoms they'd had for many years, or even most of their lives--sometimes in one or two sessions.  I've worked with people with sexual assault in their history who became completely comfortable with sex, after years of being uncomfortable.  I've worked with people who've been depressed most of their lives until, combined with talk therapy, EMDR helped them become much happier and more functional, and have more hope and ambition.  I've worked with people who have been operating on a distorted belief they acquired as a child during a trauma.  Without even knowing they had the belief (like that they will be punished if they are successful, for example), they have become aware of the belief and it's distortion during EMDR, and suddenly their whole outlook on life has changed.  I've seen people who'd had an abortion realize they'd decided never to let themselves get pregnant again, so were not able to get pregnant years later when they wanted to.  Seeing that decision and consciously revising it through EMDR allowed them to get pregnant.  There's no guarantee, but EMDR has helped many people tremendously.
 
For all of this in video, check out this great summary of EMDR:EMDR can be an amazingly powerful therapy.  Like all psychotherapies, there is an art to getting it right.  So it doesn't work with every person on every issue every time.  But, I have worked with people who were able to resolve symptoms they'd had for many years, or even most of their lives--sometimes in one or two sessions.  I've worked with people with sexual assault in their history who became completely comfortable with sex, after years of being uncomfortable.  I've worked with people who've been depressed most of their lives until, combined with talk therapy, EMDR helped them become much happier and more functional, and have more hope and ambition.  I've worked with people who have been operating on a distorted belief they acquired as a child during a trauma.  Without even knowing they had the belief (like that they will be punished if they are successful, for example), they have become aware of the belief and it's distortion during EMDR, and suddenly their whole outlook on life has changed.  I've seen people who'd had an abortion realize they'd decided never to let themselves get pregnant again, so were not able to get pregnant years later when they wanted to.  Seeing that decision and consciously revising it through EMDR allowed them to get pregnant.  There's no guarantee, but EMDR has helped many people tremendously.
 
For all of this in video, check out this great summary of EMDR: EMDR can be an amazingly powerful therapy.  Like all psychotherapies, there is an art to getting it right.  So it doesn't work with every person on every issue every time.  But, I have worked with people who were able to resolve symptoms they'd had for many years, or even most of their lives--sometimes in one or two sessions.  I've worked with people with sexual assault in their history who became completely comfortable with sex, after years of being uncomfortable.  I've worked with people who've been depressed most of their lives until, combined with talk therapy, EMDR helped them become much happier and more functional, and have more hope and ambition.  I've worked with people who have been operating on a distorted belief they acquired as a child during a trauma.  Without even knowing they had the belief (like that they will be punished if they are successful, for example), they have become aware of the belief and it's distortion during EMDR, and suddenly their whole outlook on life has changed.  I've seen people who'd had an abortion realize they'd decided never to let themselves get pregnant again, so were not able to get pregnant years later when they wanted to.  Seeing that decision and consciously revising it through EMDR allowed them to get pregnant.  There's no guarantee, but EMDR has helped many people tremendously.
 
For all of this in video, check out this great summary of EMDR:EMDR can be an amazingly powerful therapy.  Like all psychotherapies, there is an art to getting it right.  So it doesn't work with every person on every issue every time.  But, I have worked with people who were able to resolve symptoms they'd had for many years, or even most of their lives--sometimes in one or two sessions.  I've worked with people with sexual assault in their history who became completely comfortable with sex, after years of being uncomfortable.  I've worked with people who've been depressed most of their lives until, combined with talk therapy, EMDR helped them become much happier and more functional, and have more hope and ambition.  I've worked with people who have been operating on a distorted belief they acquired as a child during a trauma.  Without even knowing they had the belief (like that they will be punished if they are successful, for example), they have become aware of the belief and it's distortion during EMDR, and suddenly their whole outlook on life has changed.  I've seen people who'd had an abortion realize they'd decided never to let themselves get pregnant again, so were not able to get pregnant years later when they wanted to.  Seeing that decision and consciously revising it through EMDR allowed them to get pregnant.  There's no guarantee, but EMDR has helped many people tremendously.
 
For all of this in video, check out this great summary of EMDR: EMDR can be an amazingly powerful therapy.  Like all psychotherapies, there is an art to getting it right.  So it doesn't work with every person on every issue every time.  But, I have worked with people who were able to resolve symptoms they'd had for many years, or even most of their lives--sometimes in one or two sessions.  I've worked with people with sexual assault in their history who became completely comfortable with sex, after years of being uncomfortable.  I've worked with people who've been depressed most of their lives until, combined with talk therapy, EMDR helped them become much happier and more functional, and have more hope and ambition.  I've worked with people who have been operating on a distorted belief they acquired as a child during a trauma.  Without even knowing they had the belief (like that they will be punished if they are successful, for example), they have become aware of the belief and it's distortion during EMDR, and suddenly their whole outlook on life has changed.  I've seen people who'd had an abortion realize they'd decided never to let themselves get pregnant again, so were not able to get pregnant years later when they wanted to.  Seeing that decision and consciously revising it through EMDR allowed them to get pregnant.  There's no guarantee, but EMDR has helped many people tremendously.
 
For all of this in video, check out this great summary of EMDR:  
 

Also, please feel free to ask more questions on the Forum page!

To see EMDR in action, watch this video of Colleen West, MFT:

For more videos about EMDR, go to EMDRinaction.com, Colleen's and my site for educating the public about EMDR

 

    

 

 

Email: CynthiaLubow@yahoo.com 

 Cynthia W. Lubow, MFT

 For 30 years, compassionately helping people build self-confidence and feel happier.

 San Francisco East Bay Area Therapist

I can work with anyone who lives in California through Skype

Including San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Rosa, Sacramento, San Diego, Ukiah, Marin...