What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful psychological treatment that has been used effectively for more than 20 years in a variety of international settings and cultures across many different types of psychological distress.

EMDR is designed for working with distressing memories, which lead to symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. EMDR Therapy aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive thoughts related to a traumatic/distressing event.

EMDR Therapy was originally designed for use with clients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however it is now used for clients with phobias, anxiety, panic attacks, chronic pain, addictions, nightmares, overeating, and social anxiety.

What will happen in EMDR Therapy?

After taking a history and assessing the problem your EMDR therapist will help you identify when you began experiencing symptoms and what memories are associated with your feelings. You will not have to describe in detail what happened, your therapist only requires a few key factors of the memory.

Once the target memory has been identified, you will be asked to identify the memory, thoughts and emotions associated. Your therapist will then begin a set of bilateral eye movements, and the EMDR process will proceed. At the end of processing, you may still remember what happened but will feel less distressed by that memory.

What are the Eye Movements?

The bilateral eye movements used in EMDR cause a neurological process to occur which unlocks the memory, allowing the brain’s natural processing system to work. As processing unfolds, all aspects of the memory are affected – the memory itself, associated thoughts, and of course the emotion and body sensations too.

How does it work?

Often when a traumatic or distressing event occurs the memory of that event is stored in the brain differently from a regular memory. These memories are stored differently due to the high level of distressing emotion at the time of the event/s.

A traumatic event causes changes in the brain structure that disrupts its ability to process material. Since the memory becomes locked there, it continues to be triggered when a reminder comes along. Emotions therefore come up which we can’t seem to control. The eye movements help unlock the memories and enable the brain to process these memories so they are no longer stuck.

EMDR has a positive effect on how the brain processes information. Following an EMDR session, the person no longer relives the trauma. They still recall that an incident happened, but it no longer feels upsetting.

How many sessions will be needed?

One or more sessions are required for the therapist to take your history and to determine whether EMDR Therapy is an appropriate treatment for you. The therapist will provide information about the process of EMDR and answer any questions. Most EMDR Therapy sessions are approximately 60 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the number of previous experiences will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary, and your therapist will discuss this.

Is EMDR Therapy a recognised psychological treatment?

EMDR is one of the most researched psychotherapeutic approaches for PTSD. Since 1989 more than 20 controlled clinical studies have found EMDR to effectively decrease or eliminate the symptoms of PTSD for the majority of clients and it is more efficient than other therapies, such as CBT.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has noted EMDR as a Level 1 treatment for PTSD in their recent published results for ‘Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions: A Literature Review’ (2010) for both young people and adults. This is the highest rating that can be applied to a specific therapeutic approach. Additional research has focused on use of EMDR for depression, anxiety and numerous other issues with extremely good results.

EMDR Therapy has been recognised by the following organisations:

• Phoenix (The Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health)
• The National Health and Medical Research Council
• The Australian Psychological Society
• The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
• UK Guidelines for Clinical Excellence
• American Psychiatric Association
• American Psychological Association
• World Health Organisation

What are the advantages of EMDR over other treatment approaches?

Unlike CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR therapy does not involve: 1) detailed descriptions of the event, 2) direct challenging of beliefs, 3) extended exposure, or 4) homework. EMDR therapy is more direct over a shorter period of time and is less stressful for the client.

EMDR has comparable results to that of other trauma treatments such as exposure therapy, but over a shorter timeframe. Studies have shown that 77-90% of clients with PTSD were able to eliminate their symptoms after 3-7 sessions of EMDR (without homework).

As noted in the WHO (2013) guidelines and the American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines (2004, p.18), in EMDR therapy “traumatic material need not be verbalised; instead, patients are directed to think about their traumatic experiences without having to discuss them.” Given the reluctance of many combat veterans to divulge the details of their experience, this factor is relevant to willingness to initiate treatment, retention and therapeutic gains. It may be one of the factors responsible for the lower remission and higher dropout rate noted in this population when CBT techniques are used.


Below you will find links to selected resources available on the Internet which we believe can help clients in their understanding of EMDR.  If you know of other resources that you’d like to share with others, please let us know.


Depending on your browser, click on the word PLAYLIST or the menu icon in the top left corner of the playlist below, to see an index of all videos in the playlist.

When Talking Doesn’t Do The Trick


Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing Association of Australia
EMDR Institute Inc.
EMDR International Assoication
EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs
EMDR article in Elle magazine

Victorian Chronic Pain Care