EMDR Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is used to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It can also be helpful in alleviating a range of physical symptoms, such as chronic pain. EMDR is believed to work by altering the way in which traumatic memories are stored in the brain. As a result, those memories are less likely to be triggered and disabling in the future.

Developed by Francine Shapiro, a psychologist, EMDR is based on her theory that the brain stores normal and disturbing memories differently. The memory of a distressing event is often “frozen in time.” The sight, sound, smells, tastes, and feelings that go with it remain intensely vivid. This is why people with a history of trauma often feel as if they are reliving the experience in the present, even when the memory is not triggered. EMDR appears to address this by changing the way in which a person recalls a traumatic memory and installing more positive beliefs about themselves and their world.

The first step in EMDR involves your therapist taking a history of your problems and the events that have contributed to them. This information contributes to an Adaptive Information Processing, or AIP, informed case conceptualization and treatment plan. It also helps your therapist determine which memories will be targeted for reprocessing, and the order in which they will be processed.

In the second phase of EMDR, your therapist will begin bilateral stimulation with their hands. Typically, this involves moving their fingers back and forth in front of you while you recall the disturbing memory along with its negative emotions and body sensations. Alternatively, your therapist may use a tapping device or music to stimulate the brain. During this phase, your therapist will guide you to replace the negative beliefs and feelings with a more positive one that is protective of your health.

After the memory has been processed, your therapist will ask you to note any changes in your symptoms. If you still feel some negative sensations, your therapist will guide you through additional sets of bilateral stimulation while you think of the target memory and positive belief, until you no longer feel distress related to it.

EMDR sessions can be quite lengthy and you should prepare for your appointment accordingly. While EMDR is considered to be safe, it can be emotionally draining, especially during the early stages of treatment. Therefore, you should make sure that your insurance provider will cover EMDR before scheduling an appointment. In most cases, it is covered for the treatment of PTSD, but some insurance providers also provide coverage for EMDR for anxiety and other issues. It is important to discuss your specific insurance coverage with your therapist before the beginning of your EMDR therapy. This will allow you to make the best decision for your unique needs.