What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing

Let’s demystify all this. The first two words refer to a number of techniques designed to stimulate our brain’s ability to process information effectively. One of those techniques literally has a person track an object, such as a counselor’s fingers, moving left to right and right to left in front of a person’s gaze. This left right stimulus is intended to mimic the kind of movement of our eyes experience during REM or Rapid Eye Movement, often exhibited during deeper modes of our sleep cycle. According to EMDR theory developed by Dr. Jan Shapiro and her colleagues, stimulating this left right movement may allow our brains to process information in our heart-mind-body system that may be somehow locked, frozen or stuck. So, it’s not at all what some people think of when it comes to hypnosis, or how the media often presents hypnosis. It’s not hypnosis. And, you’re meant to be aware of yourself and in control throughout the use of the left right movement as a stimulus. Many people experience improved healing of both mental and emotional hurts as stuck information starts moving again. The eye movement is something of a misnomer, because not everyone who receives EMDR as a treatment utilizes eye movement. And, it’s part of the original treatment name to which research is tied and which substantiates and validates the efficacy of the treatment.


Desensitizing, to me, is the heart of EMDR treatment. I often find myself making more sense of desensitizing with words and phrases such as, ‘taking the edge off,’ or simply healing. Many people receiving EMDR as treatment report only wanting or needing this part of the approach. In fact, after effective desensitizing work, most folks commonly report some version, “I don’t know why, and I’m just not as bothered by that thing (the hurt, pain, or disturbance targeted by the treatment) as I used to be.” EMDR, as an evidenced-based, researched practice, theorizes that the left right stimulus promotes improved communication between the left and right hemispheres of our brain, thereby allowing stuck information to move and flow once more. This, in turn, allows our own natural ability to process the information and heal from it. In this regard, EMDR sets us up for success, letting us reclaim our own natural ability to heal ourselves.


I often translate reprocessing in my own mind as transforming. If desensitizing is taking the edge off a distress, a hurt, or simply something that deeply bothers us, reprocessing takes the healing a step further, asking us to consider how we would prefer to handle something both in the present and in the future. To transform the hurt really captures the essence of this part of the treatment. Once we’ve successfully desensitized a difficulty, reprocessing or transforming allows us to create our preferred vision of the future. And, then, set us up for success by giving us ways of preparing and practicing in order to make the preferred vision of the future a reality. Reprocessing helps us bring a life-giving version of ourselves directly into the world. In this way we transform ourselves into living our lives more fully.

What does EMDR treat?

EMDR got its start treating trauma, and treating PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress) in particular. The early research on EMDR points to how effective it can be for helping people heal from trauma experiences. And, EMDR is not a one-trick pony! EMDR research is ongoing. Other research shows EMDR to be effective in treating a whole range of difficulties, including, but not limited to: anxiety, depression, grief, substance use difficulties, panic, pain management, performance anxiety, and, more recently, thought disorders.

My training with EMDR focuses primarily on treating anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma in individual counseling.

Do I have to use EMDR if I’m working with you?

No. You’re the authority of you. Let’s honor that. EMDR is simply a treatment option that I have the training to provide. If you’re interested, open, and willing to use EMDR, great. If not, great. We’ll look at other treatment options and find the best fit for you.

Next Steps…

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Contact Peter Simón, LMHC at TacomaCounseling, PLLC