Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing

EMDR is a vehicle to reduce or offload traumatic events. 


Big "T" traumas encompass tragic losses, sexual assaults, catastrophic situations, combat, and more. These are usually identified as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) inducing memories. PTSD means instead of an event being worked through in the forebrain, where executive functions occur (i.e. sorting, reconciling, filing),  this event is stored in a frozen, dormant part of the brain, and remains as vivid and unresolved as the day it happened. 

PTSD criteria usually has a cluster of symptoms such as:

  • a sense of foreshortened future
    • you don't see your life extending far into the future
  • flashbacks or flashes (briefer) triggered by stimuli that was present at the initial event
    • a smell
    • a color
    • a touch
  • nightmares
  • inappropriate fear/alarm response to benign events
    • flight
    • fight
    • freeze
  • depression and/or anxiety

Small "T" trauma is defined as less obvious, yet developmentally harmful events that occurred, particularly during childhood. Such as Piaget outlined what physical, mental, and emotional development milestones were reached each year of growth, so were there "emotional dings" that happened, and due to the disturbing aspects of how these memories were stored maturation was stunted and by the time emancipation happened (typically 18 years old), adulthood was reached without the full emotional adult response to life and situation. The hurt child or adolescent was still reacting. From there we go on to "marry" our critical fathers to try and win emotionally unavailable love that was withheld, or we think it is okay to hurt ourselves with substances of gambling. Many or most of decisions are made out of fear. 

Fear = Victim = paralysis

We continue to accept our parent's definition of who we are and often, what is wrong with us. I have also called this an "illness identity." If resolved, or off-loaded, anyone can move towards a whole "wellness identity" that is more current, accurate, and up-to-date representation of how we have evolved over our adult years. 


In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions.

Dr. Shapiro studied the effect scientifically and, in 1989, reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. 

Since then, EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, it is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. 


No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes "frozen in time,"  and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feeling haven't changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people. 

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals, however, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. 

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