Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that can be used to treat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as numerous other mental health or psychiatric concerns. The foundation of EMDR is based upon Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) which suggests that psychiatric difficulties are due to faulty processing of traumatic experiences. These inaccuracies lead to difficulty with managing past and present experiences. The EMDR process includes eight phases that should be followed along the course of EMDR treatment. These phases focus on past experiences, current triggers, and future challenges. The goal of EMDR is relieving present symptoms while coincidently decreasing the level of distress from the memory or memories that have impacted the client.

EMDR focuses heavily on self-regulation and the use of effective coping strategies to manage the distress associated with the memories. The provider helps the client develop coping strategies or “resources” to utilize before and after sessions to ensure healthy coping when activating the distressing memory. History taking and resource development are seen as essential components of effective EMDR treatment. Upon reaching Phase 4, desensitization and reprocessing can occur. In this phase, the provider guides the client to safely “activate” a distressing memory which is referred to as the “target”. As the client recalls the target, the provider initiates bilateral stimulation which can include the client or provider tapping the client’s legs in an alternating manner, alternating vibration of buzzers held in the client’s hands, or most commonly, eye-tracking of the provider’s hand movements. These processes repeat with the provider assessing progression until the client reports the distress level has decreased to a 0 out of 10 on a Likert scale. While the goal of EMDR may be to overcome the distress associated with adverse life experiences, it can also be used to install positive cognitions or resources to increase one’s ability to manage future challenges that a person may encounter. Through EMDR therapy, the provider can support the client in addressing disruptive cognitions while reinforcing or increasing healthier, more adaptive beliefs.

As referenced above, EMDR is most commonly utilized to treat clients with PTSD; however, EMDR can be used to treat numerous other issues including relationship issues in couples therapy, phobias, addictions, complex trauma, as well as recent trauma or trauma that has occurred within the last 3 months. EMDR is an appropriate therapy for all ages with minor adjustments required by the provider to guide the therapeutic process.

EMDR has yielded significant outcomes in client care and therapeutic growth. Southside Behavioral Health currently has trained EMDR clinicians who can provide services to children and adolescents. Adult outpatient services are currently in the process of training clinicians to provide EMDR to their clients as well. EMDR is an effective method of reaching clients who have not seen progress through more standard therapeutic interventions. With the focus of this therapy being more internal, the client’s reluctance to openly discuss the memories of negative experiences is not as dependent upon a successful outcome in treatment. EMDR provides an open window to those adverse life experiences that may not have previously been shut. Through EMDR therapy, Southside Behavioral Health continues its mission to increase the availability of services to meet the diverse needs of our client population.

By Ryan McCoull, MA, LPC, LSATP, EMDRIA Certified Therapist