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Home > Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)

Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)

Andrew L. Martin, PsyD

What is Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy or EMDR? EMDR is a cognitive behavioral therapy mainly used to treat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. EMDR is unique because of bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation means doing something that activates both sides of the brain. Usually this involves moving the eyes side to side, but you can also listen to sound from speakers, or hold pulsing devices in your hands. This is done in a psychotherapy session while discussing traumatic events and related emotions and thoughts.1

EMDR’s developer – Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., thought of using bilateral stimulation while jogging. She noticed she felt better after jogging and attributed this to her eyes moving side to side. She then developed a theory about how stimulating the brain while talking about a traumatic event might better help us process emotional pain and develop new ways to think about traumatic events.

Does EMDR work? Yes. Several studies prove that EMDR helps a lot of people, even if it’s not clear yet exactly how it works. Most clinical practice guidelines (reviews of all research on a specific disease) still mostly recommend trauma focused therapies like Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy over EMDR, but this may change over time. EMDR is a relatively new therapy, and is gaining more research support and evidence every year.2

Even without bilateral stimulation, EMDR consists of cognitive behavioral techniques long proven to help reduce anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Scientists continue to research the importance of bilateral stimulation in EMDR.

1The Cleveland Clinic (2022, March 29). EMDR Therapy. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/


2Martin A, Naunton M, Kosari S, Peterson G, Thomas J, Christenson JK. Treatment Guidelines for PTSD: A Systematic Review. J Clin Med. 2021 Sep 15;10(18):4175. doi: 10.3390/jcm10184175. PMID: 34575284; PMCID: PMC8471692.






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