What is EMDR

Particularly as of late, a lot of mental health practitioners are being trained in a therapy called EMDR therapy. Chances are, you are here wondering what it is–along with many patients I have seen and introduced to EMDR therapy.

Looking up videos or even the definition on the EMDRIA website can be intimidating, so I will do my best to explain it here in a way that makes sense!

How Does EMDR Work?

Personally, I like to keep things simple. EMDR stands for “eye movement, desensitization, and reprocessing.” Broken down, you will see that it isn’t so complex!

Eye Movements

“Eye movements” refer to, well, moving your eyes back and forth. Usually, I will move my hand in front of your face side to side like a windshield wiper while you keep your head steady and follow with your eyes.

This movement is call “bilateral stimulation” and the theory is that you are stimulating both the left and right hemisphere of your brain while the other mechanisms are at work. I describe this as the process that “bypasses your emotional center” so you can access memories that may be difficult to retrieve in therapy.


Chances are you know what desensitization means. It is what it sounds like, you are actively making your brain’s emotional center less sensitive to certain memories and/or experiences you have had, are currently having, or are scared that you may have (more on EMDR time travel in another article).


Using the eye movements to desensitize your brain of experiences/memories that it is sensitive to, now it is time to reprocess and reorganize those experiences to make them useful for you instead of a hindrance!

I like to describe this part as your brain’s filing system. Once you are able to work with your brain to access a difficult memory (Desensitization) you can now allow your brain to process it and make sense of it, then store it back in your brain’s highly complex memory network (Reprocessing) so that it can “sort out” the negative emotions and reactions previously associated with it.

After reprocessing, you now can interact with things that would have previously been a trigger for you without the high emotional activation that you once had. Now that your brain has sorted through the emotions with EMDR, the experience is now solely stored as a memory of “a thing that happened” that you can learn from. Kind of cool, right?

What are the Side Effects of EMDR?

Okay, so you now understand what EMDR does to your brain and how it does it. What are the side effects??

Side effects of EMDR can be any of the following:

-Temporarily increased nightmares during reprocessing
-Temporarily increased fatigue (psychological and physical) during reprocessing
-Momentary symptoms of distress while reprocessing in sessions
-Resurfacing of potentially other traumatic memories

Having said that, prior to experiencing any of these symptoms in reprocessing your therapist will take you through an extended phase of EMDR therapy called “preparation” which is meant to prepare you for how the reprocessing will feel and work in real time for you. Preparation is key to your success in EMDR therapy and should be taken just as seriously as the reprocessing phase of EMDR.

It is important for you to know that all of these side effects are indeed temporary and are fairly typical of any psychotherapy modality–particularly trauma therapies. However, it is important that you enter therapy knowing the whole picture of what may transpire. EMDR is not only effective, but it is faster than other trauma therapy modalities (TF-CBT, CPT, Counting, Exposure Therapies, etc.). Whereas these therapies have the same side effects, you can work through EMDR much quicker!

What EMDR can do for You

EMDR’s best evidence is in support of its use for trauma diagnoses–meaning PTSD, C-PTSD, and other trauma disorders. Contrary to what you may have heard you can still benefit from EMDR if you have other problems you would like to work on in therapy.

There is evidence for EMDR’s success in treating substance use, eating disorders, weight loss, depression, anxiety, panic, as well as many other mental health disorders.

After practicing EMDR for a little while now I can tell you that I have seen it work in many aspects for people, myself included! Whether you have experienced trauma or you need a little help navigating something going on in your life, EMDR can help you come to new realizations you never may have thought were possible!

If you have made it this far and want to learn more about EMDR therapy or therapy in general for online mental health counseling, feel free to reach out using my contact form!



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