The Benefits of EMDR for Trauma Survivors

The saying “time heals all wounds” does not apply to trauma. Untreated trauma can continue to wreak havoc on a person’s life for years or even decades after they survive a traumatic experience. Thankfully, services such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, can make a world of difference. EMDR for trauma survivors is a research-supported approach that can ease psychological pain and help people develop healthier responses to distressing memories.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy uses rapid eye movements to ease the anguish that people feel when they recall memories of traumatic experiences. In addition to eye movements, EMDR therapy sessions may also employ other forms of bilateral stimulation. These may include lights, sounds, or touches that rapidly alternate from side to side.

This type of therapy can be beneficial for people who have developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also help those whose lives have been impacted by anxiety, depression, and certain other mental health concerns.

EMDR therapy was developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD, in the late 1980s. 

Dr. Shapiro originally referred to her new treatment as eye movement desensitization (EMD). She expanded the name to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) in the early 1990s.

In the decades since Dr. Shapiro published her initial research into EMDR, several studies have documented the effectiveness of EMDR for trauma survivors. For example, a 2018 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reported that “EMDR therapy improved PTSD diagnosis, reduced PTSD symptoms, and reduced other trauma-related symptoms.”

How an EMDR Therapy Session Works

Typically lasting between 60 and 90 minutes, an EMDR therapy session is organized into eight phases. However, a typical session will not include all eight phases. For example, during a client’s first few EMDR sessions, they may focus solely on the first phase. The next few sessions may involve only phases two and three. Here are the eight phases of EMDR for trauma survivors:

History & Planning

During this phase, the client discusses their history of trauma and what they hope to accomplish in treatment. The client and therapist work together to identify traumatic memories that future phases may focus on.


During the second phase, the therapist explains the procedures involved in EMDR for trauma survivors. The client may practice the eye movements or other types of bilateral stimulation that are integral to the process. 


This is when the client focuses on one traumatic memory. While the client is doing this, they discuss the specific ways this memory has impacted them. This can include any feelings, images, or physical sensations that occur when they recall this memory.


During the desensitization phase, the client will focus on the traumatic memory while either moving their eyes back and forth or engaging in another form of bilateral stimulation. All of this will occur under the guidance of the EMDR therapist. This process will be repeated until the negative reactions that were identified in the assessment phase are eliminated.


With the negative feelings that had been associated with the traumatic memory now gone, this phase focuses on replacing them with a positive, self-affirming belief. The goal of this phase is to get to the point at which the traumatic memory triggers an automatic healthy response instead of a distressing reaction.

Body Scan

During the body scan, the patient focuses on the traumatic memory and the healthy response that they have just installed. While doing this, they evaluate their physical response to see if the memory causes any tension or other physical discomfort.


Before a reprocessing session ends, the closure phase returns the client to a calm, neutral state. Depending on the client’s response to their traumatic memory, it may take several sessions for them to replace their negative reaction with a positive belief. Closure ensures that the client isn’t still feeling the pain of the traumatic memory when they leave the session.


After a client’s first EMDR session, most subsequent sessions begin with reevaluation. This is a time when the client and therapist can review the effects of previous sessions. Reevaluation is also an opportunity to determine which traumatic memory will be the focus of the new session.

EMDR Therapy for Trauma Survivors

Trauma survivors who do not receive appropriate professional treatment may be at increased risk for several negative effects, including the following:

  • Development or worsening of other mental health concerns
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Difficulties forming and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Diminished self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions

When a trauma survivor gets the right type and level of care, they can avoid these effects and achieve improved health.

EMDR therapy and other forms of treatment for trauma can empower trauma survivors to live more hopeful and satisfying lives. 

The Pros and Cons of EMDR Therapy for Trauma Survivors

EMDR therapy for trauma survivors is a non-invasive treatment technique that poses minimal risk for unpleasant side effects.

The pros of EMDR therapy include an easing of emotional distress, the development of healthier responses to traumatic memories, and the alleviation of other trauma symptoms. Also, EMDR therapy can be provided on a residential or outpatient basis, which expands access to treatment and allows for greater scheduling flexibility.

The possible cons of EMDR therapy include emotional discomfort during sessions and the potential resurfacing of suppressed traumatic memories. Some EMDR clients have reported feeling tired after EMDR sessions, while others have said they felt more emotionally sensitive and experienced strange or particularly vivid dreams.

Before any person takes part in EMDR therapy sessions at Neuroscience Institute, a member of our treatment team will explain the process in great detail, discuss the potential benefits and side effects, and answer all their questions.

Receive EMDR Therapy for Trauma in South Florida

Neuroscience Institute provides personalized care for adults whose lives have been impacted by PTSD and other effects of trauma. Treatment options at our center in South Florida include EMDR for trauma survivors. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and services.

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