EMDR for the Treatment of Trauma


EMDR for the Treatment of Trauma

December 3, 2015

Ramona Wade, MA, LMFT, QMHP

What you can expect in this session:


Overview of trauma and PTSD in light of the brain


EMDR overview


How EMDR is different from other therapy models.


Basic skill set to help in emergency situations


Some real life trauma/healing stories

What not to expect in this session:


I will not be speaking about sexual violence in particular


Specific training in EMDR


Review of research to support various trauma treatment models

Understanding Trauma and PTSD

Trauma is the incident that puts a person in a position of perceived or real danger. It creates the physiological need for fight, flight, or freeze.

Shock trauma: a single episode. We think of war, rape, murder, MVA, natural disasters, suicides, etc.

Developmental trauma: those traumatic experiences that happened repeatedly, often in family of origin, contributing to a negative cognition of self. Examples of that would include a parent giving a repeated negative message through emotional, physical, sexual abuse, or neglect. The child then develops the impression he is bad or doesn’t matter.

The Triune Brain

Human, Neo-Cortex

Mammalian or Limbic


Reptilian Brain: controls the automatic functions of the body and the instinctual/reflexive responses that contribute to survival.

Mammalian or Limbic Brain: controls the reception and interpretation of sensory and emotional material.

Human, Neo-Cortex Brain: controls rational thought, analysis, decision making, and language.

PTS is an Incomplete Physiological Process

We have all heard of the fight, flight, or freeze response to danger. In each of these responses, the most important thing in the prevention of PTSD is the discharge of the energy surge, the rush of the chemicals, in the face of danger. It is NOT about the events of the trauma; rather it is the trapped energy that is not discharged that causes PTS.

EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – The Theory

EMDR was discovered accidentally by Francine Shapiro in 1987.

Adaptive Information Processing. As Shapiro did her research, she concluded that people have an innate neurological ability to recover from trauma. This process is jump-started by EMDR allowing a person to work through the negative and disturbing images, beliefs, emotions, and sensations and move toward health. In short, the body is wired to heal itself. Sometimes, that process is interrupted as in trauma. EMDR can jump start the brain again to complete the process.

EMDRIA has conducted a lot of research to support the efficacy of EMDR.

Additionally, with the use of SPECT scans, we can now see, in treatment, how the limbic system lights up in the early stages of the treatment. As the trauma is desensitized, the prefrontal cortex lights up and the limbic system quiets indicating the material is being reprocessed. The patient is no longer emotionally charge by the memory of the trauma and the patient assigns a new meaning/cognition to the experience.

EMDR – the Therapy

EMDR is an integrated therapy using aspects of talk and body therapies that value the body-mind connection. In short you use all of the skills you already have as a therapist but add the EMDR.

Originally, Shapiro discovered that it was with eye movements that the brain was stimulated bilaterally. We don’t exactly know why that it is so. There are many theories such as a similarity to REM sleep eye movements, but we don’t know for certain. The research in on going. Over the course of time, as some patients have not been able to tolerate shifting eye movements, they have discovered that other methods of bilateral stimulation work as well including: auditory signals, tactile pulsers, or physically tapping people’s hands or knees.

Phases of EMDR Therapy

Phase 1: Client History

Phase 2: Preparation

Skill building through: safe place, containment, relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, identifying allies, grounding, and mindfulness.

Phase 3: Assessment

Finding the worst image

Negative belief

Positive belief

Validity of cognition


SUDS scale – level of subjective disturbance

Location of body sensation

Phase 4: Desensitization – bilateral stimulation

Phase 5:Installation of Positive Cognition

Phase 6: Body Scan

Phase 7: Closure

Phase 8: Reevaluation

What to Expect

EMDR is not a miracle. Some people respond better than others. Depending on whether it is a single event trauma or a developmental trauma, the length of treatment will vary. After a session, some people report feeling exhausted, relieved, invigorated, or nothing. Usually the processing continues between sessions often outside of the client’s awareness. It is often a subtle process, a neutralization of the trauma. Often family members will note the changes before the client. For some there is a distinct awareness of how things are better.

How EMDR is Different from Other Therapy Models


Not as much focus on the details of the trauma event.


No encouragement to recall everything that happened.


No prolonged exposure to the trauma, rather brief exposure and dual awareness.


Less talk and analysis, more emotional and bodywork.


EMDR is usually faster and more complete.

What Can You Do/Not Do to Help in Acute Trauma


Help the person breathe. The exhalation is the release and must come first.

Breathe with them.


Re-orient to the present through the senses.


Identify allies.


Don’t ask them what happened – they may not be able to access the prefrontal cortex for thought retrieval if they are in FFF. You will not get accurate information.


Don’t touch them.


Encourage a shake off of the trauma.

Case Reviews

Closing: Story of Yankel

“When you warm other people’s hearts, you remain warm yourself. When you seek to support, encourage, and inspire others; then you discover support, encouragement, and inspiration in your life as well.”


Shapiro, F. (2001) EMDR: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic

principles, protocols, and procedures. New York: Guilford.

Maiberger, B. (2009) EMDR Essentials, A Guide for Clients and Therapists. New York:


Parnell, L. (2007) A Therapist’s Guide to EMDR: Tools and Techniques for Successful

Treatment. New York: Norton.

Levine, P. (2010) In an Unspoken voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores

Goodness. California: North Atlantic Books. van der Kolk, B. (2014) The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the

Transformation of Trauma. New York: Penguin.