top of page


What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” Basically, it’s a type of therapeutic approach that helps process and heal traumatic experiences and distressing events.

New understandings of neuroscience are beginning to help us understand how it is that EMDR can sometimes be more effective than traditional “talk therapy.”

Although it was initially developed to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in war veterans, it’s been found to be helpful for a variety of traumas and distressing incidents.

Brain Sketch

Who can be helped by EMDR?

Here are some examples*:

Lilly came in for therapy because she had a fear of going to the doctor. This hadn’t been a big problem for her. But when she continued to put off scheduling an appointment to check some symptoms, she started to become more aware of how much her fear was controlling her.

Going to the doctor is rarely fun. But Lilly found the idea of going paralyzing. Even though rationally she knew she would be okay, she avoided scheduling her necessary appointments.

Lilly knew that her avoidance of her treatments could create bigger, unnecessary health problems. But her fear felt extremely real.

Emotionally charged memories don't have an expiration date.

When we experience something shocking, frightening, or otherwise emotionally intense, our brains learn it well. Sometimes too well.

And it can lead to faulty associations later in our lives.

Lilly’s early experiences were contributing to her current fears. When she was 6 years old, Lilly’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Lilly saw the effects of treatment on her mother, which was quite scary for a 6-year-old.

Additionally, this coincided with her parents’ separation. Lilly understandably had questions and fears about what this would mean for her own well-being. Where would she live? Would her parents be okay? What would this mean for her relationships with them?

The combination of witnessing the effects of treatment on her mother, the fear that her mother wouldn’t survive, and the emotionally charged experience of her parents’ separation all left Lilly feeling an intense sense of aloneness and fear of her life being out of control.

Decades later, when Lilly faced the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of a medical setting, all those feelings and fears came flooding back.

With EMDR therapy, Lilly was able to let go of the old fears and associations, realizing (and truly believing) that they had to do with her past, not with her current situation.

While she still remembered that early period of time, and it understandably brought up sadness, it no longer felt as painful or relevant. It felt more distant. Fortunately, it also didn’t continue to keep her from moving forward in the ways she needed to.

Therapy Office

Single Incident Traumas

Not all problems are caused by a series of stressful or traumatic situations. Sometimes one event itself is shocking and scary enough to lead to problems. These are called “single incident traumas.”

This is what Brian experienced.

Brian had been in a car accident that left him in pain and scared to drive on highways, especially near the location of his accident. He had anxiety while driving, and he was easily startled when it seemed like cars were getting too close to him.

Brian had even more anxiety when he was a passenger and felt less in control. He found himself avoiding more and more: driving in traffic, during bad weather, eventually on highways altogether.

When he wasn’t driving, Brian was isolating himself. He had nightmares and wasn’t finding things enjoyable anymore. He found that instead of things getting easier as time passed after the accident, things were getting worse.

He decided that things needed to change. Finally, it was worth trying to get help.

After some initial appointments of learning tools to bring his anxiety down and to make sure that EMDR was suitable for him, Brian started EMDR.

With just a couple of sessions, Brian was able to feel differently about the accident and his role in it. He no longer felt powerless. His anxiety decreased. He felt more comfortable driving longer distances and driving in places that he’d been avoiding. He no longer had nightmares.

Most important, Brian knew he would be okay.


EDMR is not for everyone, but I’ve been amazed at how well – and quickly — it works for some people.

In recent years, EMDR has been successfully used to help heal from potentially less “traumatic,” but still disturbing, experiences. These include circumstances such as grief, losing one’s job, ending a relationship, performance anxiety, learning hurtful messages in childhood (i.e., “I’m not good enough”; “I’m not lovable”).


EMDR is different from traditional talk therapy in that there is less talking and more “allowing the brain to do its thing.”

The body – including the brain – knows how to heal. Sometimes traumatic experiences “block” the brain’s natural ability to process information and heal, and we find ourselves experiencing symptoms that just don’t seem to get better.

Research suggests that EMDR “nudges” the brain to remember how to process information in a normal, healthy way. Although you still remember the original experience, it feels less upsetting.

EMDR appears to be similar to what we experience during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.


Like most treatments, this depends.

Although there is a standard protocol that’s followed with EMDR, the type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma typically determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.

Ready to learn more?

If you'd like more information about whether and how EMDR might help you, call me at 510.406.5124 or email me for a free 20-minute consultation.



Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page