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Effective EMDR Therapy for PTSD: Treat Trauma and Heal

emdr therapy

Clinically Reviewed by: Dr. Robin Campbell, LMFT, PHD

EMDR Therapy and Trauma

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe mental health condition that affects millions worldwide, often resulting from exposure to traumatic events. Recognized by the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD manifests through persistent negative emotions, disturbing memories, and uncomfortable physical sensations. One innovative and effective treatment for PTSD is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. Originating from the EMDR Institute and supported by organizations like the EMDR International Association, this structured therapy has gained significant attention in the field of traumatic stress studies. EMDR works by allowing individuals to process trauma memories through a series of eight phases, including the eye movement desensitization procedure and simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation. EMDR treatment is widely recognized for its efficacy and is endorsed by national and international organizations. This blog explores how EMDR therapy sessions can transform the lives of those dealing with PTSD symptoms, traumatic stress, and other distressing life experiences.


What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is a psychotherapy approach designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, EMDR is based on the idea that traumatic memories can get stuck in the brain’s processing system, leading to ongoing psychological distress. The therapy involves a structured eight-phase approach, which includes the patient recalling distressing events while simultaneously undergoing bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping. This process is believed to help reprocess traumatic memories, integrating them into the brain’s normal memory networks and reducing their emotional impact. EMDR has been shown to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions involving trauma and anxiety.


How is EMDR Therapy Used for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

EMDR Therapy is widely used to treat trauma, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here’s how it is typically utilized in this context:

  1. History and Treatment Planning: The therapist gathers a detailed history of the patient and develops a treatment plan tailored to their specific needs, focusing on the traumatic memories and related issues.

  2. Preparation: The therapist explains the EMDR process to the patient, establishing a sense of safety and trust. Techniques for handling emotional distress, such as deep breathing and mindfulness, are also taught.

  3. Assessment: The specific traumatic memory to be targeted is identified. The patient is asked to select a vivid image representing the worst part of the memory, a negative belief about themselves related to the memory, and any associated physical sensations.

  4. Desensitization: The patient focuses on the traumatic memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation (e.g., guided eye movements, hand tapping, or auditory tones). This process helps to desensitize the emotional impact of the memory, allowing the patient to process it more adaptively. EMDR treatment has been widely recognized for its efficacy in trauma therapy, supported by extensive research and approval from major health organizations.

  5. Installation: Positive beliefs are reinforced to replace the negative beliefs associated with the trauma. The patient focuses on a positive belief while continuing with bilateral stimulation.

  6. Body Scan: The patient is asked to observe their physical response to the memory and the new positive belief. Any residual tension or discomfort is addressed through additional bilateral stimulation.

  7. Closure: Each session ends with techniques to ensure the patient feels stable and safe, even if the trauma processing is not yet complete. Coping strategies are reinforced.

  8. Reevaluation: At the beginning of subsequent sessions, the therapist assesses the progress made and identifies any new areas of distress to be addressed.

By systematically reprocessing traumatic memories, EMDR Therapy helps individuals integrate these experiences into their normal memory networks, reducing their emotional intensity and impact. This often leads to significant improvements in symptoms of PTSD and other trauma-related conditions.


How Does EMDR Therapy Work in Addiction Treatment?

EMDR Therapy works in addiction treatment by addressing underlying traumatic experiences that often contribute to substance abuse. The therapy helps patients reprocess traumatic memories, reducing their emotional impact and associated distress. By alleviating these trauma-related triggers, EMDR can decrease the urge to use substances as a coping mechanism. Additionally, EMDR can help replace negative beliefs with positive ones, supporting healthier behavior patterns and aiding in recovery. This therapeutic approach is often integrated with other addiction treatment modalities for comprehensive care.


How Do Eye Movements Work in Mental Health Treatment?

EMDR Therapy works in mental health treatment by helping individuals reprocess distressing memories and experiences that contribute to various psychological issues. Through a structured process involving bilateral stimulation (e.g., eye movements), EMDR allows patients to access and reframe traumatic memories, reducing their emotional intensity and negative impact. This therapy is effective for conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and phobias, promoting psychological healing and improving overall mental health by integrating troubling memories into the brain’s normal processing system.


Benefits of EMDR

EMDR Therapy offers several benefits, including:

  1. Effective Trauma Treatment: It is particularly effective for treating PTSD and other trauma-related conditions by helping individuals reprocess traumatic memories.

  2. Rapid Results: EMDR often leads to quicker therapeutic outcomes compared to traditional talk therapy.

  3. Reduced Distress: It helps decrease the emotional distress associated with traumatic memories.

  4. Improved Coping Mechanisms: Patients develop healthier coping strategies and reduce reliance on maladaptive behaviors, such as substance abuse.

  5. Enhanced Self-Esteem: The therapy promotes positive beliefs and self-perceptions, replacing negative ones linked to trauma.

  6. Broad Applicability: EMDR is effective for a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, phobias, and panic disorders.

  7. Non-Invasive: It is a non-invasive treatment that doesn’t rely on medications, making it suitable for individuals seeking alternative therapeutic approaches.

These benefits make EMDR a valuable tool in the field of mental health treatment.


What Addictions and Mental Health Conditions are Treated with EMDR?

EMDR Therapy is used to treat a variety of addictions and mental health conditions, including:


  1. Substance Abuse: Alcohol, drugs, and prescription medication abuse.

  2. Behavioral Addictions: Gambling, sex, internet, and food addictions.

Mental Health Conditions

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Addressing trauma-related symptoms.

  2. Anxiety Disorders: Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety.

  3. Depression: Major depressive disorder and dysthymia.

  4. Phobias: Specific phobias, such as fear of flying or heights.

  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Reducing obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

  6. Grief and Loss: Helping individuals process and cope with bereavement.

  7. Stress: Managing chronic stress and stress-related symptoms.

  8. Chronic Pain: Addressing the psychological aspects of chronic pain.

  9. Eating Disorders: Anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder.

EMDR is effective in treating these conditions by targeting and reprocessing underlying traumatic or distressing memories, thereby reducing their impact on the individual’s mental health and behavior.


Goals of EMDR for Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

The goals of EMDR for addiction and mental health treatment are:

  1. Reprocess Traumatic Memories: Alleviate the emotional distress associated with past traumatic experiences.

  2. Reduce Symptoms: Decrease symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

  3. Enhance Coping Skills: Develop healthier coping mechanisms and reduce reliance on addictive behaviors.

  4. Promote Positive Beliefs: Replace negative self-perceptions with positive, empowering beliefs.

  5. Improve Overall Functioning: Enhance overall psychological well-being and daily functioning.

  6. Prevent Relapse: Address triggers and underlying issues to prevent relapse in addiction recovery.


Duration of EMDR Therapy for Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

The duration of EMDR Therapy for addiction and mental health treatment can vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the issues, the individual’s response to therapy, and the presence of co-occurring conditions. Generally:

  1. Initial Phases: The first few sessions involve history taking, treatment planning, and preparation, which may take 1-3 sessions.

  2. Treatment Sessions: The desensitization and reprocessing phases typically occur over several sessions. Each session usually lasts 60-90 minutes.

  3. Overall Duration:

    • For simple or single-incident trauma, treatment might be completed in as few as 6-12 sessions.

    • For complex trauma or multiple issues, including addiction, treatment might extend to several months or longer, often involving 20 or more sessions.

The therapist will regularly evaluate progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed, ensuring that the therapy duration aligns with the individual’s unique healing process.


Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Options 

Addiction and mental health treatment options include:

Addiction Treatment Options

  1. Detoxification: Medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms.

  2. Inpatient Rehabilitation: Intensive, residential treatment programs.

  3. Outpatient Programs: Flexible treatment allowing patients to live at home.

  4. 12-Step Programs: Peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

  5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Addressing thought patterns contributing to addiction.

  6. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Combining medication with counseling.

  7. Counseling and Therapy: Individual or group therapy sessions.

  8. Holistic Therapies: Yoga, meditation, and acupuncture.

Mental Health Treatment Options

  1. Psychotherapy: Including CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and EMDR.

  2. Medication: Antidepressants, antianxiety medications, and antipsychotics.

  3. Inpatient Psychiatric Care: For severe cases requiring hospitalization.

  4. Outpatient Therapy: Regular sessions with a mental health professional.

  5. Support Groups: Peer support and group therapy.

  6. Lifestyle Changes: Exercise, nutrition, and stress management techniques.

  7. Alternative Therapies: Mindfulness, art therapy, and animal-assisted therapy.

These options can be tailored to meet the specific needs of individuals, providing a comprehensive approach to recovery and mental well-being.


Other Alternatives to EMDR to Treat Trauma

Alternatives to EMDR for treating trauma include:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.

  2. Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Helps patients gradually face and process traumatic memories.

  3. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT): Integrates trauma-sensitive interventions with cognitive-behavioral techniques.

  4. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Combines CBT with mindfulness and emotional regulation strategies.

  5. Eye Movement Integration (EMI): Uses similar principles to EMDR but with different techniques.

  6. Somatic Experiencing: Focuses on body awareness to release trauma-related stress.

  7. Narrative Therapy: Encourages individuals to reshape their personal narratives surrounding trauma.

  8. Psychodynamic Therapy: Explores unconscious processes and past experiences affecting current behavior.

  9. Hypnotherapy: Uses guided relaxation and focused attention to address trauma.

  10. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Uses mindfulness practices to reduce stress and trauma symptoms.


Holistic Alternatives to EMDR Therapy for Treating Trauma

  1. Somatic Experiencing: Focuses on body awareness to release trauma-related stress and restore the natural balance of the nervous system.

  2. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Utilizes mindfulness practices to reduce stress and improve emotional regulation.

  3. Yoga Therapy: Combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to promote healing and mental well-being.

  4. Acupuncture: Traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to reduce stress and improve overall health.

  5. Art Therapy: Encourages self-expression through art to process and understand trauma.

  6. Hypnotherapy: Uses guided relaxation and focused attention to address and reframe traumatic memories.

  7. Equine-Assisted Therapy: Involves interactions with horses to promote emotional healing and personal growth.

  8. Reiki: A form of energy healing that aims to balance the body’s energy and promote relaxation and healing.

  9. Narrative Therapy: Helps individuals reshape their personal narratives surrounding trauma to create a more empowering story.

  10. Herbal Medicine: Uses natural herbs and supplements to support mental health and reduce symptoms of trauma and anxiety.

These holistic approaches can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional therapies to provide a comprehensive treatment plan for trauma and PTSD.


Is Treatment Right for Me?

Determining if treatment is right for you involves considering the following factors:

  1. Symptoms: Persistent distress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues impacting daily life.

  2. Functioning: Difficulty functioning at work, school, or in relationships.

  3. Coping: Reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse.

  4. Trauma History: Past traumatic experiences affecting current well-being.

  5. Support System: Limited support from friends or family.

  6. Professional Recommendation: Advice from a healthcare provider or mental health professional.

If any of these apply to you, seeking treatment could be beneficial in improving your mental health and overall quality of life.


Does Insurance Cover Treatment?

Insurance coverage for treatment varies depending on the specific policy and provider, but many insurance plans do cover mental health and addiction treatment. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Mental Health Parity: Under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), many insurance plans are required to provide coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment comparable to coverage for physical health conditions.

  2. Types of Coverage: Coverage often includes therapy sessions, inpatient and outpatient treatment, medication, and counseling services.

  3. Network Providers: Using in-network providers typically results in better coverage and lower out-of-pocket costs.

  4. Pre-Authorization: Some treatments may require pre-authorization from the insurance company.

  5. Co-Payments and Deductibles: Be aware of co-payments, deductibles, and any coverage limits.

It’s important to check with your insurance provider to understand the specifics of your coverage and any requirements for accessing mental health and addiction treatment services.


Common Insurance Plans Used for Treatment

Common insurance plans used for mental health and addiction treatment include:

  1. Employer-Sponsored Health Plans: Many employers offer health insurance that includes coverage for mental health and addiction treatment.

  2. Medicaid: Provides coverage for low-income individuals and families, often including mental health and addiction treatment.

  3. Medicare: Offers coverage for individuals 65 and older and certain younger individuals with disabilities, including mental health services.

  4. Individual Health Insurance Plans: Purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace or directly from insurance companies, these plans often cover mental health and addiction treatment.

  5. TRICARE: Provides coverage for military personnel, retirees, and their dependents, including mental health and addiction services.

  6. CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program): Offers coverage for children from low-income families, including mental health services.

  7. EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs): Some employers offer EAPs that provide limited counseling services and referrals to treatment.

It’s important to verify the specific benefits and coverage details with your insurance provider to understand what treatments are covered and any associated costs, including emdr treatment for PTSD and other mental disorders.



EMDR Therapy stands out as a powerful tool in the arsenal against PTSD and other mental disorders. Supported by randomized clinical trials and treatment guidelines from the Veterans Affairs and other reputable bodies, EMDR has proven to facilitate the natural healing process by addressing trauma memories and distressing life experiences. With its structured approach, targeting specific traumatic events, and the ability to produce significant treatment effects in fewer sessions, EMDR therapy is a beacon of hope for multiple trauma victims. The practice and research documented in the Journal of EMDR Practice demonstrate its efficacy in reprocessing therapy and treating posttraumatic stress disorder. As more individuals seek help from EMDR-certified therapists, the future looks promising for those battling emotional trauma, enabling them to move past their past trauma towards successful treatment and recovery.


Seeking Treatment? We Can Help!

At New Hope Healthcare, as an in-network provider we work with most insurance plans, such as:

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse, reach out to New Hope Healthcare today. Our team of compassionate professionals is here to support your journey towards lasting well-being. Give us a call at 866-799-0806

Frequently Asked Questions

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy is a structured therapeutic approach designed to alleviate distress associated with traumatic memories. It works by having patients recall traumatic events while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation, such as guided eye movements or tapping. This process helps reprocess trauma memories, reducing their emotional impact and integrating them into the brain’s normal memory network.
EMDR Therapy is highly effective in treating PTSD and other trauma-related conditions. Numerous randomized clinical trials and studies published in the Journal of EMDR Practice have shown significant reductions in PTSD symptoms and other distressing life experiences. It is recognized as an effective treatment by organizations like the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, and Veterans Affairs.
During an EMDR therapy session, you will work with an EMDR-certified therapist through a structured eight-phase approach. This includes history taking, preparation, assessment of target memories, desensitization using bilateral stimulation, installation of positive beliefs, a body scan to check for residual distress, and closure to ensure stability. Sessions typically focus on specific disturbing events and aim to reprocess and reduce the impact of trauma memories.
EMDR Therapy is suitable for a wide range of trauma and individuals, including those who have experienced single-incident trauma, multiple trauma victims, and those with complex PTSD. It can also be effective for other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and phobias. However, it is essential to work with a trained EMDR therapist who can tailor the treatment to your specific needs and circumstances.
The duration of EMDR Therapy varies depending on the complexity of the trauma and the individual’s response to treatment. Some people may experience significant improvements in as few as 6-12 sessions, especially for single-incident traumas. More complex cases involving multiple traumas or co-occurring mental health conditions may require a longer treatment period. Regular evaluations with your therapist will help determine the appropriate length of treatment for your specific situation.

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