EMDR eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy
Adults, Substance Use

EMDR: A Therapy for Trauma

Are you interested in learning more about EMDR? Maybe it was recommended to you by a therapist or medical professional. Are you wondering if EMDR could help you or if you would be a good candidate for EMDR? Here are some helpful things to know about EMDR to help answer some of your questions. 

EMDR- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – is a therapy approach that treats trauma and symptoms related to trauma. Clinical research has shown that EMDR is an effective treatment that has brought relief to many people who are suffering from trauma. 

How does trauma affect the brain?

Our brain and body is wired to be able to manage and process information without us even knowing it’s happening. But when something distressing or traumatic happens to us, our brain can become overloaded. The information from the distressing event gets stuck in the limbic system of our brain. This information is stored in the limbic system in a “raw” and emotional form rather than in a rational form.

an info graph of the 3 brain regions and how trauma affects each area: the brain stem, the limbic system, and the prefrontal lobes.

Here’s an example! Think about a splinter stuck in our skin. What happens if you don’t remove the splinter? The area around the splinter becomes inflamed and it can be very painful. When we remove the splinter, the body can begin to heal and the inflammation disappears.

This is similar to trauma. When a traumatic memory is stuck in the limbic system, those memories get triggered when you experience something similar. For example, a Vietnam vetern will experience painful emotions (panic and fear) and body sensations (increased heart rate and rapid breathing) when he hears fireworks off in the distance. Sometimes you forget the memory itself. Any yet you may still continue to experience painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, and anger, as if you’re reliving the event all over again. 

How does EMDR help with trauma?

Just like we are wired to manage and process information, our brain and body is also wired to heal naturally on it’s own. EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of your body. When you begin EMDR therapy, your therapist will complete a thorough assessment to develop a treatment plan. Your therapist will then ask you questions about particular traumatic memories that may be impacting your daily life today.

Once you and your therapist agree that you are ready, your therapist will guide you through eye movements. These are the same eye movements that happen to each of us when we are in REM sleep. Your therapist may also offer options such as tapping, tactile stimulation, and auditory tones.

removing a splinter as a metaphor for healing trauma with EMDR

This process helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks. Then it transfers the information to the neocortex. This is where the brain shifts the information to adaptive memory networks. The information changes from “the trauma defines me” to “the trauma was something that happened to me.” In other words, EMDR helps to remove the splinter, which allows the brain and body to heal naturally, reducing the pain and inflammation. 

Can EMDR help me heal from my trauma?

You may be asking “is my issue one that can benefit from EMDR?” EMDR is not just for big traumatic events, but smaller traumas as well. Many individuals may have experienced a series of distressing events in their life that bring on negative beliefs. This could sounds like “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t trust myself” or “I am not safe.” EMDR can benefit you by targeting these thoughts and helping individuals to have healthier beliefs about themselves. 

Research shows that EMDR can successfully treat the following:

brain showing over activity in red compared to brain after emdr treatment with less red overactivity
  • PTSD
  • Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Nightmares and other sleep problems
  • Grief and loss
  • Addictions
  • Physical pain
  • Performance anxiety
  • Feeling of worthlessness/low self-esteem
  • Eating disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Sexual assault
  • Violence and abuse

It is important to know that EMDR is not for everyone. One of the benefits about the therapy is that the process can be rapid and fast-moving for many individuals. Some individuals may also experience disturbing experiences during, or sometime after, the process. It is important that you are both willing and stable enough to experience strong feelings and thoughts that could possibly occur. Your therapist will be sure to go over this with you. Both of you will decide together if you are ready.


Learn more about EMDR Trauma Therapy at MCCC

Contact Montgomery County Counseling Center or myself, Kristen Moyer to schedule an EMDR appointment. My approach is using a blend of DBT and EMDR where clients can learn how to regulate and control their emotions as well as work towards healing and peace. 


About the Author

Kristen Moyer, EMDR therapist in Maryland

Kristen Moyer, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor with Montgomery County Counseling Center in Maryland. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from West Chester University (PA) in 2010 and continued on to earn her Master’s Degree in Professional Clinical Counseling from La Salle University (PA) in 2014. In 2017, she began working with children and adolescents who struggle with education and their behavior in a school setting and has since evolved to working with adolescents and young adults in DBT settings. Kristen became EMDR trained in June of 2021. Kristen is currently accepting EMDR and DBT clients ages 12 and up for online therapy.


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