Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

By Tammy Dorff, Psy.D.

What, you might ask, is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?  Is there some magic to eye movements?  Would my eyes get desensitized somehow in this process, and why would I want that, anyway?!

EMDR might sound like a strange and unusual procedure, but it is actually a well-researched and well-respected form of psychotherapy that has been proven quite effective with a wide range of symptoms.  It integrates various psychological approaches (such as psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, mindfulness, using breathing and imagery, etc.), along with using what is called “bilateral stimulation” or BLS.  The bilateral stimulation (stimulating both sides of your brain in an alternating fashion) can be achieved through having you follow your therapist’s fingers back and forth (this was the original method, and hence eye movements are in the name of the procedure).  It can also be done using sounds (i.e., by listening to noises in each ear via headphones) or tactile stimulation to each side of your body (i.e., by holding vibrating tappers in each hand).  The specific method used is less important than the fact that your brain is being stimulated on each side of your body in an alternating way.

The combination of the BLS, along with the other aspects of EMDR, can be very helpful in addressing areas where you feel particularly stuck–even areas where more traditional types of psychotherapy have not helped. This is because it works to reprocess your memories of difficult events on a neurological level.  When people experience traumatic or other highly emotionally charged events, our brains tend to hold onto that memory in a way that captures the original image of the event, as well as our feelings, thoughts, and body sensations connected to it.  EMDR is designed to allow you to access all of that information, “desensitize” your reactions to the memory and reprocess it so that you can move past it.  You will not forget your memories, but they will no longer bother you so much or have such an adverse impact on other aspects of your life.  This allows you the freedom to move on with your life in a way that might have been more difficult to do otherwise.  EMDR can be very helpful in addressing sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, grief and loss, anxiety, depression, anger, as well as other issues not traditionally thought of as trauma but which can be experienced as such (for example, having to go to school each week when school is incredibly difficult and demoralizing for you, or feeling abandoned or neglected by your loved ones).   EMDR can bring a new clarity to situations, helping you to see other aspects of them that you had not previously considered.  This can then allow you to problem-solve better and have some peace about your life in ways that did not seem possible beforehand.

For more information on EMDR, check out the EMDR information section of our website.

To schedule an appointment for EMDR, or to answer further questions about this type of therapy, please contact Dr. Tammy Dorff at 732-777-1494, tdorff@stridesinpsych.com.