How, Where, and When to Try EMDR

EMDR, also known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a powerful treatment modality often used with people who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related distress. Research indicates that trauma and addiction often go hand in hand, making EMDR a natural addition to a thorough treatment program.

Extensive scientific and clinical research has determined that EMDR is an effective method to help people heal from their past traumatic experiences. It’s believed that past traumatic experiences continue to cause problems in our lives when the memory of that experience is not processed properly.

Unprocessed memories often contain all the negative emotions, thoughts, and even the physical sensations that were present at the time of the event. When these memories are triggered, so too are the negative sensations of the initial event, causing symptoms such as panic, anxiety, and a fight-or-flight response. EMDR uses bi-lateral stimulation, which usually relies upon sounds or eye movement to stimulate the right and left sides of the brain. The intention is to change how the memory is stored in the brain and body, reducing or removing the fight-or-flight symptoms. Anyone who has suffered from past trauma can benefit from EMDR.

EMDR and trauma

When should you try EMDR?

EMDR is a versatile modality and is useful in treating a range of symptoms. It is especially helpful when addressing conditions like anxiety, panic, substance abuse, trauma, and eating disorders. According to Keren Poirer, one of Scottsdale Providence’s seasoned primary therapists, EMDR is a useful tool in many cases. “EMDR can be extremely helpful for a lot of people and is a natural complement to a 3-6 month treatment program.”

According to Keren, it’s useful to understand a client’s treatment goals and personal struggles and then apply treatment modalities best suited to those aims. “[We look at] What the main goals a client wants to work towards and what their main struggles are. If a client has high amounts of anxiety that are interrupting their personal, social, or work life, I might work with them to see if we can target some of those symptoms to see if we can resolve that original wound.”

For many who have found that traditional talk therapy has been insufficient to resolve some of their symptoms—such as ongoing panic attacks—EMDR can be a natural next step and bring new results.

How often should you do EMDR?

As each individual is unique and different, with their own history and complexities, no one treatment plan works for everyone. Our team is committed to seeing the individual beyond the diagnosis to create a holistic, multi-disciplinary plan for full recovery. According to Keren, the timeline for EMDR treatment will vary between individuals. “You may have a client who only needs one, two, three sessions of EMDR to successfully complete a treatment and heal a [traumatic] memory. Some clients, who have had multiple instances of trauma will require more sessions of EMDR. Everyone’s different—that may range from a few months to a year. But as I mentioned, EMDR can be used in conjunction with other therapies. Some will find it useful to do EMDR every other session, or every few sessions. It can really vary.”

Where does EMDR work best?

According to Keren, EMDR is excellent for its versatility, but careful consideration needs to be given to an individual’s circumstances. “Just like any other therapeutic modalities, it is not a one size fits all. However, when we do EMDR, we looking to see if this client is in a safe and supportive environment. If a client is in a home with domestic violence, I’m not going to do reprocessing with them. You want to make sure safety and stabilization have happened first. And that’s an ongoing process throughout all the phases of EMDR.”

Fortunately, this modality can be applied in a range of circumstances, on its own or along with other therapeutic modalities, Keren says. “One of the beautiful things about EMDR is that it can be used short-term, long-term, or in conjunction with other types of therapeutic modalities, such as traditional talk therapy, CBT, DBT, things like that. EMDR doesn’t have to be a stand-alone practice—it absolutely can be, but what we are seeing as a result of bi-lateral stimulation and desensitization is that clients experience a change in their thoughts, their responses, and their feelings, and the emotional intensity related to certain events.”

The team at Scottsdale Providence is committed to helping people find real solutions and lasting recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and addictive behaviors. Our experienced and compassionate team has a track record of success, along with an evidence-based approach that brings lasting positive outcomes. If you or someone you care about needs help, get in touch. We are here to help.


It’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

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