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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: How Can It Help You?

emotional Numbness Trauma EMDR


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing:

How Can It Help You?


Bad memories inspire some people to work harder to better their lives. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Deeply rooted memories of a traumatic or painful experience can also keep you from moving forward, particularly when they are not processed or fully digested. These distressing experiences can linger, haunting you months or years later and preventing you from achieving your life goals.

If you are feeling hopeless because other treatments have not completely freed you from your trauma, there is one approach you may want to try: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).


Trauma as a Constant Companion

Survivors of a traumatic experience are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, especially when the experience has not been processed. The symptoms may not appear immediately, but months or even years later. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, PTSD symptoms can be categorized into three types:


  1. Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  2. Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
  3. Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.


These symptoms can interfere with your life. They can prevent you from completing even simple tasks. They can contribute to your avoiding people because of your reactions each time the memory of the trauma comes back like it just happened. Not understanding your response or behavior, family, friends, and coworkers may even avoid you, contributing further to your distress.

It is normal to want to overcome your past trauma. You may not be able to try all of the kinds of psychotherapy that exist, but you can consider the most commended ones. According to Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld of Scientific American in EMDR: Taking a Closer Look, EMDR is one of the “new kids on the therapy block that stood out” in the last 15 years or so.


EMDR: What You Need to Know

EMDR is a psychotherapy technique that involves “desensitization using eye movement and reprocessing.” It was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987. She stated that she accidentally discovered it while she was walking in a park and found herself feeling less distressed as she moved her eyes back and forth. It uses eye movements and taps or tones.

According to Sara Staggs, author of PsychCentral’s 5 Things to Know About EMDR, “memories are linked together in networks” and people with distressing pasts can have “trauma stored in their bodies.” Staggs also writes that “trauma memories usually involve a false belief,” which “wasn’t processed properly.” To correct false beliefs, processing the memory is important. EMDR goes beyond “desensitizing” the experience; it reprocesses the experience, so that it is instilled with a new meaning.

Will it work for you? EMDR could be worth your effort if you have been diagnosed with PTSD due to an abusive, violent, or emotionally painful life event. Its value cannot be underestimated; it has been recommended by reputable organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).


Resuscitating Hope with Each Phase

EMDR is anchored to an eight-phase treatment protocol.

Phases 1 to 3 can be collectively described as the “unraveling of the trauma.” The distressing life event is resurfaced and the client’s readiness for EMDR is worked out, so as to create new positive associations with the images associated with the ordeal.

  • Phase 1: History-taking. The trained therapist talks to the client to find out about their symptoms and significant life events and to know what may be triggering their symptoms. The treatment goals are also set during this phase.
  • Phase 2: Preparation. The therapist prepares the client for the processing of their experience or memory. Around this time, it is common practice for stress reduction techniques to be integrated, so the client can use them between sessions.
  • Phase 3: Assessment. The client rates their distress using a scale of 1 to 10 and identifies the trauma facet that they want to change. Positive cognition is identified in this phase.


There are three important processes that are used in Phases 4 to 6 to identify and process a target memory. According to the EMDR Institute, during the process, the client identifies: “(1) the vivid visual image related to the memory; (2) a negative belief about self; and (3) related emotions and body sensations.” Focusing on one image, thought, or sensation at a time, and using eye movements or bilateral stimulation (taps or tones), the target memory is processed.

  • Phase 4: Desensitization. This is undertaken by doing bilateral stimulation on the client. The level of disturbance is rated by the client. The goal is to reach zero, a sign that disturbance is gone or that the positive associations are totally imbued. Until then, the process of bilateral stimulation continues.
  • Phase 5: Installation. The positive cognition recognized during “assessment” is again checked to see if it has considerably changed. Bilateral stimulation is sustained until positive cognition goes down to level 7.
  • Phase 6: Body scan. The different parts of the body are checked to determine if tensing still occurs when the traumatic memory is stirred up. Again, bilateral stimulation continues until the physical sign of distress has been significantly diminished.


Phases 7 and 8 ensure that you will be able to sustain your progress after Phase 6 and that you are ready to handle the distress that is roused with the memory of the trauma.

  • Phase 7: Closure. The therapist checks if there are still any traumatic memories left to be processed. These can be discussed between sessions, so as not to stall the process.
  • Phase 8: Reevaluation. Are you completely treated? The answer will depend on your responses during this phase, when the positive cognition and the level of disturbance in the earlier phases are assessed and treated. The process of desensitization is repeated if there are signs that any memory still needs reprocessing or desensitization.


Resolving Trauma with EMDR

Do not let a past trauma unduly imprison or saddle you (or a loved one) for life. Do not let it keep you from having a wonderful life or from pursuing your dreams. If trauma is your constant companion and bedfellow, take matters into your hands: call Carolina Counseling Services – Pittsboro, NC, to find out more about EMDR and to book your first appointment. CCS in Pittsboro has contracted an independent therapist experienced in EMDR who can help you move past your distressing life event.

EMDR is widely considered a powerful approach for treating trauma-related symptoms. It “rewires your memory network” so that it becomes more adaptive and positive for you. It has helped many people with PTSD since its widespread use.  You too can live an enjoyable life after your distressing experiences are processed. Rather than stagnate and allow these painful memories to block your path towards a rewarding life, call Carolina Counseling Services – Pittsboro, NC, now.


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Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Pittsboro, NC

Counties: Chatham, Alamance, Durham, Harnett, Lee, Moore, Orange, Randolph, Wake, NC

Areas: Pittsboro NC, Gulf NC, Hickory Mountain NC, Hadley NC, Siler City NC, Wilsonville NC, Fearrington NC, Mandale NC, Bear Creek NC, Albright NC

Zip Codes: 27207, 27228, 27256, 27312, 27344, 27559


Gail Gustafson, MSW, LCSW

Specializes in: (Ages 9+) Adolescents and Adults, Individuals, Couples and Families. PTSD/Trauma, EMDR, Adoption, Drug/Alcohol/Substance Abuse addiction, Anxiety, Depression, Bi-polar, Life Transitions, Grief and Loss, Parenting, Family, couples and marriage counseling.
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