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Can Eye Movements Heal Trauma?

EMDR & REM therapies

There are various types of therapies that integrate eye movements into the healing process to maximize the effects of treatment; such as Eye Movement Integration Therapy, Audio-Visual Entrainment (AVE), Rapid Eye Technology, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, just to name a few. For example, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (broadly referred to as EMDR) is a powerful integrative psychotherapy technique that combines “bilateral stimulation” with various methods of eye movements or rhythmic, left-right stimulation activating opposite sides of the brain.

The theory behind EMDR and why it works is connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (or R.E.M) sleep. “Our subconscious mind works to assist us in working out difficult issues during our dreams. EMDR seeks to replicate the rapid eye movement during dreaming, allowing us to process or work on issues in a similar way”. EMDR stimulates eye movements that happen during REM sleep, which is the brains natural restorative healing process, inducing a fundamental change in brain circuitry. This allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and integrate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain.

EMDR has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR has also been very successful in helping people who suffer not only from trauma, but a number of other things, including; anxiety, panic attacks, disturbing memories, relationship problems, depression, or low self-esteem, as well as those who have experienced childhood trauma or abuse, or have witnessed or been a victim of violent crimes, and many other types of psychological distress.

Until recently, these conditions were difficult and time-consuming to treat. EMDR is considered a breakthrough therapy because of its simplicity and the fact that it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.

Background and history of EMDR Therapy:

Dr. Francine Shapiro

Dr. Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, developed Eye Movement Desens

itization and

Reprocessing Therapy as a revolutionary therapy with special capacity to overcome the often devastating effects of psychological trauma in the late 1980s. An ever-growing community of therapists soon recognized its power to transform lives. At the same time, controlled research studies consistently demonstrated its efficacy and have helped validate the benefits of EMDR—so much so that the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Departments of Defense and of Veterans Affairs have deemed it the most effective and rapid method for healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD)” (Carol Boulware, Ph.D., 2006).

How does EMDR therapy work?

The back-and-forth eye movements used in EMDR therapy are a form of “bilateral stimulation” that work by releasing emotional experiences and traumatic memories that are trapped in the nervous system, allowing the patient to reprocess and resolve them. This assists the neurophysiological system, which is the basis of the mind/body connection, to free itself of blockages thereby creating new neuropathways and freeing the mind from traumatic memories, self-sabotaging thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Other forms of bilateral stimulation used by EMDR therapists include alternating bilateral sound using headphones and alternating tactile simulation using a handheld device that vibrates or taps to the back of the patient’s hands.

During an EMDR therapy session, the patient remains in control throughout the entire session. The person may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session, most people report significant relief or a great reduction in the level of disturbance. Dysfunctional memory networks are reprocessed and positive ones are integrated and enhanced. The result does not extinguish the memory of what happened but it does strip troubling memories of their vividness and the distress they cause. In other words, the traumatic memory stays, but its power has been diminished.

The therapist works gently with the client asking her/him to revisit the traumatic moment or incident, recalling feelings surrounding the experience, as well as any negative thoughts, feelings and memories. The therapist then begins the back and forth movement like a windshield wiper. The client tracks the movements back and forth. The more intensely the client focuses on the memory, the easier it becomes for the memory to come to life. As quick and vibrant images arise during the therapy session, they are processed by the eye movements, resulting in painful feelings being exchanged for more peaceful, loving and resolved feelings. "Processing" does not require the patient to talk about the issue. Instead processing means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be "assimilated" and stored appropriately in the brain.

The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the experiences that are causing problems, thereby incorporating new skills, behaviors, and beliefs about the self. In turn, this leaves the person with the understanding and perspectives that will lead to a healthy life, while responding adaptively with useful behaviors and interactions.

EMDR therapy comprehensively identifies and addresses experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural resilience or coping capacity and have consequently caused traumatic symptoms, eluding a person’s natural processing abilities. Through EMDR therapy, patients are able to reprocess and desensitize traumatic information or emotional and physical disturbances, until it is no longer psychologically disruptive.

EMDR therapies rest upon The Adaptive Information Processing (or AIP) Model, which guides a clinician’s use of EMDR procedures so that the person’s own brain can complete the processing of difficult memories. This results in the reduction of symptoms and suffering and the development of new coping skills that can support psychological health.


Few psychological treatments have been as widely heralded as EMDR. Some EMDR proponents have called it a “miracle cure”. EMDR therapy is an effective therapy for people of all ages, genders, and cultures. EMDR is compatible with elements of other clinical approaches. Practitioners from all orientations can successfully integrate EMDR principles and procedures into their clinical practice.

Negative emotions, feelings, and behaviors are generally caused by unresolved earlier experiences that are producing distress on the individual, while preventing the ability to resolve it. The EMDR approach provides a model for understanding human potential, including how positive experiences support adaptive living, and psychological health, and how upsetting experiences can sometimes lead to psychological problems that interfere with a person’s ability to meet life’s challenges.

“EMDR is a remarkable evidence-based treatment method commonly used to heal the symptoms of trauma, as well as other emotional conditions. EMDR therapy can free us from limitations associated with our past, present, or future, while affording us the opportunity to live life even more fully, by helping us balance our physical, emotional, and mental systems.

Before & after EMDR brain scans

To take advantage of the benefits of

, be sure to contact us today for a session, and we’ll look forward to providing you with your EMDR solutions right away!


Arkowitz, H., Lilienfeld, S.O. (2012). Scientific American, EMDR: Taking a Closer Look. Can moving your eyes back and forth help to ease anxiety?

Beaulieu, D. (2013). Eye Movement Integration Therapy, NLP Comprehensive. Retrieved on August 11, 2016 from: http://www.nlpco.com/library/eye-movement-integration-therapy/#axzz4HY6HgQKP

Boulware, C. (2006). What Is EMDR?

EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs (2016). What is EMDR? Retrieved on August 18, 2016 from http://www.emdrhap.org/content/what-is-emdr/

Rodriguez, T. (2013). Scientific American. Can Eye Movements Treat Trauma?

Stickgold, R. (2016). EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs. How does EMDR work?

Shapiro F. (2014). The EMDR Approach to Psychotherapy, 6-10.

#Healingthroughtheeyes #EMDR #EyeMovementDesensitizationReprocessing #Trauma #RapidEyeMovementTherapies