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EMDR History

Crying, help and psychologist with a wom

Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in the 1980s. Dr. Shapiro (2018) explained she gained awareness of the positive impact bilateral stimulation (BLS) had on desensitizing distressing thoughts while on a walk in California. She applied this newfound information to survivors of traumatic events and found consistency in positive outcomes with horizontal eye movements when the clients simultaneously recalled the stressful memories. EMDR has been approved by the World Health Organization and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as the treatment of choice for treating PTSD (Landin-Romero et al., 2018). The American Psychological Association (2022) has approved EMDR as an evidenced-based psychotherapy for treating phobias and PTSD.

EMDR is an evidence-based psychotherapy that incorporates several modalities (e.g., cognitive, behavioral, and psychodynamic) (Shapiro & Forrest, 2016). Mental health professionals are increasing awareness of how trauma has played a role in a variety of other mental health diagnosis. Landin-Romero et al. (2018) state EMDR has been identified as successful in treating OCD, panic disorder, bi-polar disorder, unipolar depression, dental phobias, alcohol dependency, and pain management. The goals of EMDR are to increase distress tolerance, desensitize the memory and all of its associated components (negative beliefs about oneself and/or the world, triggers, uncomfortable body sensations, intrusive thoughts, and any other disturbing negative symptoms that resulted from the traumatic event), and reprocess the memory with positive associations (e.g., positive beliefs, body sensations and images).


Fidelity to the EMDR model requires all eight phases to be completed, and typically the phases are completed in order.​ The model is structured and capable of addressing clients with various diagnosis. The clients may become avoidant in effort to manage distress of the memory. Dr. Shapiro (2018) encourages clinicians to take time to meet the clients needs throughout all phases, while continuing to prompt the client to address—and not avoid—the trauma.  Education and reminders that the disturbance will peak, and then decline, is offered to help motivate clients to proceed with processing.​Landin-Romero et al. (2018) summarize EMDR is, "cognitively demanding task and requires attention, self-consciousness, autobiographical semantic memory, and metacognition to successfully identify the potential dysfunctional processes underlying the traumatic memory". It's important the clients are interested and invested in the process. It can take time and commitment during and in-between sessions.


Dr. Shapiro (2018) highlights there is no homework involved in EMDR, and the clients are not required to talk a lot. These are two attractive components for this therapy and has motivated some clients to select this intervention over others such as CBT which is known for it's out-of-session homework. Clients who are not interested or at least willing to be curious about the process are not good candidates for EMDR.



American Psychological Association. (2022).  ​


Landin-Romero, R., Moreno-Alcazar, A., Pagani, M., & Amann, B. L. (2018). How does eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy work? A systematic review on suggested mechanisms of action. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1395-1395.  


​Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press. 

Shapiro, F. & Forrest, M. S. (2016). EMDR: The breakthrough therapy for overcoming anxiety, stress, and trauma. Basic Books.  

mom or psychologist, talks to child holding hands, supporting at home, expressing emotions

Starting in utero, babies are exposed to stressors that are stored in their nervous systems. Situations that can result in a traumatically stored memory include birth trauma, sexual abuse, car accidents, physical abuse, bullying, school shootings, and more. Symptoms indicating stored trauma may include nightmares, bed-wetting, emotional outbursts/tantrums, sensitivities to known or unknown triggers, aggression, encopresis, or enuresis. EMDR is an effective way of "digesting" this information--even when the events occurred pre-verbally. After processing the stressful or traumatic experience(s), children are able to feel relief of the trauma symptoms.

EMDR has been adapted to meet the developmental needs of children through story telling. The story telling method was originally developed by Joan Lovett, M.D., and it has been further developed by Annie Monaco, LCSW-R, RPT.

Using Annie Monaco's Parents in the Process, parents and/or safe caregivers are encouraged and coached by the therapist to participate in the story telling process (Monaco Training Center, n.d.). The memories that are perceived as problematic are addressed in a direct and meaningful way, while incorporating the language and play that children understand and learn from.


Lovett, J. (1999). Small wonders: Healing childhood trauma with EMDR. The Free Press. 

Monaco Training Center. (n.d.).

EMDR with Children

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