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What is EMDR?

Updated: 6 days ago

EMDR is an acronym that stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a psychotherapy modality. A psychotherapy modality is an approach, method, or framework that therapists use to guide their sessions. EMDR is considered to be a manualized therapy which simply means that a therapist is following instructions that someone else developed. In this case, that someone is Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.
According to Maxfield (2019), EMDR has shown effectiveness in treating symptoms of trauma and/or symptoms commonly labelled as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Quirke (2022) explained how EMDR can also be used to treat a wide array of symptoms and conditions such as anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, etc. Essentially, EMDR helps you build a relationship with your nervous system so that it becomes less reactive to troublesome memories, which helps you manage your symptoms easier (Quirke, 2022).
EMDR is a researched modality that uses a technique called bilateral stimulation (BLS) to address residual symptoms of trauma. Fielding (2024) describes BLS as any method that creates continuous rhythm in a back-and-forth type of motion. BLS can be eye movements, physical sensations, or auditory tones. Bilateral stimulation has shown to create a re-association of traumatic memories with a relaxed state which ultimately assures your brain that you are no longer in danger (Fielding, 2024). According to Artigas and Jarero (2014), self-soothing is a natural effect resulting from BLS techniques. In our sessions, the BLS technique I most commonly use is the “butterfly hug” which is performed by crossing your arms, linking your thumbs, and resting your hands with your palms face down, on your upper chest just underneath your collarbone (Artigas & Jarero, 2014).
Since EMDR is a modality, it is more than just bilateral stimulation. Essentially, there is more to this therapy than the reprocessing phase and this is something I make my clients aware of upfront when they come to me seeking EMDR. Often clients expect to jump right into BLS in their first or second session of therapy, but this is not the case. First, we must collect your history, build your resources, and identify targets before we can reprocess a target. Also, this is a very linear description of EMDR in action. Often, as is with most therapy sessions, things do not happen in a straight line.
If you are interested in more information about EMDR, check out EMDRIA’s website or book a free consultation with us.
Written By,
Nichole McKever, MA, ADTP, RSW, RP
Artigas, L., & Jarero,I. (2014). The butterfly hug method for bilateral stimulation. EMDR Research Foundation. Retrieved from
Fielding, S. (2024). Does bilateral stimulation work for anxiety? This EMDR technique may carry some benefits- and risks. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from
Maxfield, L. (2019). A clinician’s guide to the efficacy of EMDR therapy [Editorial]. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 13(4), 239-246. 
Quirke, M. (2022). Can emdr be used for other issues besides trauma? Retrieved from


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