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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)?

EMDR is a type of mental health therapy. EMDR is most often used to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The goal of therapy is to decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and unwanted thoughts, as much as possible. EMDR may be combined with medicines or other therapies to help treat your PTSD.

What happens before EMDR?

  • Before EMDR your therapist will talk with you about the traumatic event. He or she will ask you about your symptoms and current skills that help you deal with your symptoms. Tell your therapist if anything in your current life triggers your symptoms. Examples includes a song, smell, or visit to a place that reminds you of the traumatic event.
  • Your therapist will ask you to think about a positive thought you have of yourself. This thought can replace negative thoughts about yourself that were caused by the traumatic event.
  • Your therapist will teach you skills to manage your symptoms. An example includes deep breathing or practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the moment you are in, instead of a moment in the past. You can use these skills during and after therapy. Your therapist may also recommend exercise or yoga to help you manage your symptoms.

What happens during EMDR?

  • Your therapist will ask you to think about the traumatic event and the negative feelings it causes. He or she will lead you through an exercise that causes your eyes to move from side to side. This exercise resets your understanding of the event and helps you cope with the feelings it has caused.
  • After the exercise, your therapist will ask if your symptoms have decreased. You may be able to think about the event in a new way, such as less scary. The exercise is repeated until your symptoms have decreased. It is okay if you do not feel a decrease in symptoms right away. It may take several visits for you to feel a decrease in your symptoms.
  • When your symptoms decrease, your therapist will ask you to think about the positive thought you chose before EMDR. He or she will lead you through the eye movement exercise again. This helps replace the negative thoughts with the positive thought. The therapist will ask you if you have symptoms such as anxiety or fear. He or she will use the eye exercises to help you relax and feel calm.

What do I need to do after EMDR?

Keep a journal of your symptoms and what triggers them. Write down any dreams or new thoughts about the traumatic event. Write down any skill that worked to help decrease symptoms, such as deep breathing. Bring the journal to your next visit.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You have done something on purpose to hurt yourself.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms return or continue after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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