Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe psychological disorder that often affects people with traumatizing memories. It is reportedly common among war veterans who outlived extreme war-scale violence, as well as rape survivors. 

To help PTSD patients cope better with their past, doctors utilize Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. We will consider EMDR therapy in detail and how it can effectively help treat PTSD patients.

What Is EMDR?

EMDR is a thoroughly researched treatment for PTSD, recommended by the WHO to treat patients going through trauma. Retaining the memory of the traumatic event is destructive and harmful to our health. Moreover, doing so could make us sensitive to events, persons, or places that remind us of such incidents. 

To administer the EMDR therapy, the therapist makes the individual fix their attention on the traumatic incident. The patient also mentally focuses on associated thoughts, emotions, and images—under the therapist’s supervision. While the patient does that, the therapist employs bilateral stimulation and stress management tools in administering healing. 

By relating to how the brain processes pain, EMDR therapy can effectively assuage PTSD in patients.

Benefits of EMDR Therapy 

Persons going through traumatic memories and those who have PTSD typically benefit most from EMDR. It is widely believed to be highly effective for people who have a hard time relieving their former experiences. Moreover, there’s evidence that EMDR therapy could heal persons suffering from any of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Addictions
  • Bad eating habits
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

PTSD results when a person’s brain cannot process a traumatizing occurrence like extreme violence, rape, or emotional assault. In severe cases, it can suppress the body’s processing systems, making it challenging to cope with psychological or emotional distress. 

Consequently, the patient can have persistent, distressing thoughts and feelings connected to the event.  The bad part is that such disturbing emotions could remain long after the traumatic incident.

Due to PTSD’s high occurrence among war veterans, it earned such pseudonyms as “combat fatigue” and “shell shock.” However, as highlighted earlier, combat veterans aren’t the only people that experience the disorder. 

PTSD reaches people of all races, gender, ethnicity, or demography. In the United States, one report shows that around 3% of Americans are experiencing the disorder. Moreover, Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians have higher disorder rates than whites.

People with PTSD may relive the traumatic incident via nightmares or periodic flashbacks. In addition, they may still have bouts of anger, fear, or feel estranged from other people. 

Sometimes, PTSD patients deliberately avoid certain persons, places, or events to avoid regurgitating their “worst nightmares.” Regardless of the cause of the individual’s trauma, EMDR seeks to remedy the situation. Here’s how EMDR therapy operates.

How EMDR Therapy Works

Eight separate phases make up an  EMDR therapy’s administration. That means that PTSD patients will need to participate in several treatment sessions. Usually, the whole treatment is spread over about 12 meetings. We shall examine the different phases of EMDR therapy and how they work below. 

Phase One: Treatment Planning and History Review

Here, the therapist reviews the history of the patient and determines their position in the treatment scheme. In this initial phase, the EMDR therapist will interview the patient about his/her trauma. They’ll also work towards identifying the specific memories that could trigger PTSD symptoms.

Phase Two: Preparation Stage

Next, the therapist will then assist in learning various ways of managing the psychological, mental, or emotional stress condition. The therapist may employ stress management techniques such as deep breathing and mental alertness.

Phase Three: Assessment Phase

The third phase of the EMDR treatment involves the therapist singling out the specific culpable memories. The EMDR treatment would be mainly focused on these particular thought streams. Additionally, these treatments will involve accompanying components to the trauma, such as physical sensations triggered by each memory.

Phases Four to Seven: Treatment Stage

The EMDR therapy aims to desensitize the patient to the memories that have haunted them until now. To achieve that, the therapist—at these phases—starts applying EMDR therapy techniques to treat target memories. The therapist will request that the patient fixate their mind on a negative image, thought, or memory.

While fixing thoughts on the memories, the therapist would request the patient to make particular eye movements. Combining these two activities culminates in a bilateral stimulation that might also include physical taps or other motions.

Once the bilateral stimulation is complete, the therapist will ask the patient to blank his/her mind. While doing so, the patient will observe what spontaneous thoughts or feelings are creeping into his/her mind. After identifying these thoughts, the therapist may repeat the process of moving to another memory.

If these memories distress the patient, the treatment techniques will be repeated until the triggered emotions dwindle. The therapist will conduct these treatments over each of the identified memories, thoughts, or images.

Phase Eight: Evaluation Phase

This phase is the final stage of EMDR therapy. After all the sessions, the therapist asks the patient to conduct an objective progress rate assessment. Also, the therapist works their evaluation of the patient’s progress with the treatment. 

Does EMDR Therapy Work?

Several independent and supervised research studies show that EMDR therapy is effective for treating PTSD. One research shows that EMDR therapy helped 77% of persons with PTSD and psychotic disorders. The results show that their hallucinations, anxiety, and depression symptoms were significantly reduced after EMDR treatment. Additionally, the study discovered that the symptoms didn’t deteriorate during therapy.

Another study conducted a comparison between prolonged exposure therapy and EMDR therapy. The study concluded that EMDR therapy is more effective in treating PTSD symptoms. Moreover, EMDR patients reportedly had a lower dropout rate than the other investigated individuals. Both treatments reportedly reduced the symptoms of traumatic stress in the participants. 

In treating people with depression symptoms, another research reports that EMDR’s therapy shows promise in treating PTSD. The research reports that 68% of the persons in the group fully alleviated after the EMDR therapy. Overall, the group reported a more substantial decrease in depression symptoms. 

According to, a crowdsourced platform specializing in treatment effectiveness analysis, EMDR is listed as the most effective treatment for depression, and the fourth most tried. Typically, EMDR is combined with other methods, such as cognitive and exposure therapy, to help significantly reduce depression symptoms. Nonetheless, more studies are needed to assess the success rate of EMDR in treating people with PTSD.

EMDR Therapy FAQs

Now that you have seen the different benefits of EMDR therapy, it’s expected that you’d have some questions still lingering unanswered. Following are answers to some questions which you might have about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.

Is EMDR Safe?

EMDR is a very safe therapy with fewer risks than your traditional prescription medications.

What Are the Side Effects of EMDR?

EMDR therapy initiates an increased mental awareness which remains after a session. Therefore, people who go through EMDR therapy could experience light-headedness and experience vivid dreams. Also, the early stages of the EMDR may exceptionally trigger the patient due to the increased awareness. Lastly, EMDR could also be emotionally stressful to the PTSD-experiencing individual. 

What Is the EMDR’s Success Rate?

EMDR is a growing evidence-based psychotherapy practice. Studies show that EMDR has a success rate of up to 80% in helping people with PTSD. 

How Long Does the EMDR Therapy Take?

EMDR isn’t a quick-fix. It usually takes multiple sessions to treat PTSD with EMDR therapy. Each session lasts for between 60-90 minutes. In all, one therapy treatment could involve one or two meetings per week and a total of 6-12 sessions.