What does EMDR treat?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was originally discovered to work with clients who have a history of trauma and have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, over the years it is becoming integrated into treatment for other issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and addictions, attachment and self-esteem issues, and many other matters that have an emotional or physical distress component associated with them.

EMDR is a specialized technique that requires specific training and licensing. Therefore, not all therapists practice this type of therapy. Barcelona Counseling provides therapists who have been specially trained to treat many issues with EMDR.

How EMDR works on your brain

All memories are patterns of neural networks. One neural network can be connected to other neural networks when a behavior or memory has similar elements to other events or experiences. For example, smells, taste, images, touch, sounds, thoughts, etc. that are similar to previous events can initiate a connection between neural networks of memories.

Ideally, the neural networks of our memories connect across various areas of the brain. For example, the right hemisphere of the brain is more likely to hold our negative perceptions and emotions of our memories. In contrast, the left hemisphere is specialized for positive emotions. Neural networks that communicate across left and right hemispheres of the brain helps us express feelings with words and integrate positive and negative perceptions of emotions. Additionally, integration of neural networks between upper brain centers (neocortex) and lower brain centers (limbic system and brain stem) helps with managing impulses and developing greater self-control.

Traumatic memories can be assumed of as impaired encoding of neural networks. These memories are not integrated with other positive experiences and are limited in their ability to accommodate new information. This disconnection impairs one’s ability to be emotionally flexible or cognitively constructive while thinking about difficult life events.

EMDR therapy helps you to build bridges. This occurs by Re-activating the neural networks associated with a traumatic event and finding a reparative experience. Initial phases of EMDR therapy focus on resource development to strengthen the neural networks associated with positive sensations, emotions, and cognitions. Examples of resources include moments of loving others, feeling loved by others, being comforted or protected, feeling competent or successful, and experiences of safety, peace, and relaxation. This process helps you increase tolerance for the processing of traumatic memories during the Desensitization phase of treatment.

The Desensitization phase incorporates the dual awareness state, in which you maintain awareness of your present moment while simultaneously recalling memories of the traumatic event. Dual Attention Stimulation (DAS) is used during this phase in the form of bi-lateral eye movements, pulsers, or tones that alternate between the left and right side of the body. 

Research has demonstrated that EMDR Therapy successfully reduces the vividness, somatic arousal, and emotional intensity associated with distressing memories (Barrowcliff et all., 2004; van den Hout et al., 2013).

How an EMDR session looks like

During the EMDR session, the client focuses on a troubling memory and identifies the emotions/feelings, the physical sensations that the memory causes, and the negative belief connected to this memory. For example, in dealing with a memory where the client experienced lack of love from parents, the person may believe “I am not good enough”, might feel sad and lonely, and might feel a tension on the stomach area. When those are identified, the client proceeds to imagine helpers or resources to deal with those negative emotions, sensations, and self-believes. By imagining that the client is receiving help, the client starts feeling more positive emotions, physical sensations, and starts experiencing positive self-believes like: “I am good enough”.


During an EMDR session the following resources are used: 

  1. Protector Resources: Persons, animals, super heroes, spiritual figures, gaming characters, etc. that can physically and emotionally protect us from anything. 

  2. Nurturing Resources: Persons, animals, super heroes, gaming characters, spiritual figures etc. that can provide with unconditional love, care, and validation.

  3. Wise Figures: Persons, animals, spiritual figures, authors, scientists, gaming characters, etc. that can provide with guidance and answers.

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