What is EMDR?

Are you struggling with painful memories, anxiety, or distress?

Have you experienced a traumatic life event, such as surviving abuse or an act of violence?

Do you struggle with feeling calm and relaxed, even when you are in a safe place?

Do “flashbacks” and nightmares keep you from living a happy, healthy life?

Are you worried that things will never get better, that you are “broken” or “damaged”?

You are not alone. Many people struggle with the effects of trauma, and many feel that they must suffer in silence without getting the help they need. You can get the help you deserve. I offer a type of psychotherapy that specifically addresses trauma known as EMDR.

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy designed to help people overcome traumatic memories and experiences. EMDR looks a bit different from typical psychotherapy, as the therapist may occasionally have you focus your gaze on a slowly moving object, such as a light or their hand, while you talk about the trauma. Although the neurological basis for this treatment is still unclear (see Calancie et al, 2018), the effects of this treatment are real.

Here are a few different explanations to help you understand EMDR a little better:

EMDR for Kids

Many of us have had bad things happen to us in our lives. Sometimes people hurt us or make us feel gross or ugly. Sometimes something scary happens, like a car accident or seeing someone get hurt. When these things happen, many of us can feel afraid or sad, and we carry those feelings around with us like a heavy backpack full of stones.

But, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Sometimes it can help to get help. Many kids just like you can get better by trying EMDR, a type of therapy made to help take some of those feelings away.

You will meet with a therapist, someone specially trained to help kids like you, to take some of those stones out one by one and learn to set them aside. This happens by talking about what happened while focusing your eyes on a moving object, almost like you were watching windshield wipers in a car. You will start to feel better and better as you learn how to lighten your load and move forward in your life.

EMDR for Teens

Think of your mind like a sort of internet browser, like Google Chrome or (dare I say) Microsoft Edge. You often have multiple tabs opened at once – one for thinking about school, one for thinking about friends, one for thinking about what you want for dinner.

The problem is, when bad things happen to us like being the victim of a crime or witnessing something terrible, we tend to get popups. You might be trying to focus on school, when suddenly your mind is flooded with painful memories and your heart starts racing. You might try to sleep, only to have a terrifying popup wake you with a nightmare. EMDR is a specialized form of treatment that acts like an antivirus program by confronting the popups head-on. You and your therapist meet one-on-one to talk about the popups and how they affect you. The therapist will have you focus your eyes on a moving target or light while you do so to help desensitize your brain, training it to become its own popup blocker.

EMDR for Adults

Sometimes, we can experience emotional pain from difficult life experiences. Car accidents, surviving abuse, combat experience, and other forms of trauma affect more than just our bodies. In that way, EMDR is a lot like a deep tissue massage.

Rather than glossing over kinks and aches in your muscles, a massage therapist will often focus in on areas that cause the most pain. Although deep tissue massages can be painful, the body tends to experience soothing release from the day-to-day discomfort. EMDR acts the same way by specifically

targeting painful experiences and memories, processing and reprocessing, and providing you with peace and decreased stress. This also involves watching a moving target in-session, such as a light or the therapist’s hand, to help reduce your brain’s reactivity to the stress of those memories.

Although EMDR has some differences from typical psychotherapy treatment, it is also very similar. You and your therapist will meet one-on-one in a safe, confidential setting where the focus is on your needs and goals. You will have the freedom to talk about yourself without fear of judgement with a licensed professional who understands your pain.

What does EMDR help treat?

People who complete EMDR therapy have reported significant reductions in symptoms of various mental health issues, particularly those related to trauma (Konuk et al, 2018). When people think of “trauma,” they typically think of military veterans or people who have PTSD. However, trauma can be caused by a number of experiences, such as:

  • Surviving a physically or emotionally abusive relationship
  • Being in a car accident or life-threatening situation
  • Sudden or major health problems
  • Death or injury of a friend or family member
  • Being bullied or rejected socially
  • Witnessing or being involved in an act of violence

Traumatic experiences such as these can dramatically affect a person’s sense of wellbeing and safety. Fortunately, EMDR is designed to help people work through the after effects, or symptoms, caused by those experiences. Here are a few examples of symptoms that EMDR can help treat (Ostacoli et al, 2018; Wilson et al, 2018):

  • “Flashbacks,” or reexperiencing of traumatic memories
  • Recurrent nightmares of traumatic experiences
  • Hypervigilance, or feeling constantly on-edge or guarded
  • Fear of certain situations or settings
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Difficulties with sleep
  • Irritability and anger
  • Tearfulness and bouts of sadness

How does EMDR work?

In addition to providing empathy and coping skills that are offered in most therapy settings, EMDR also uses a specific technique to address difficult memories. To do this, EMDR works in three main phases:



First, you learn how to process the thoughts and feelings that surround the trauma. This often involves identifying feelings that may be difficult to put to words and working through thoughts that invade your peace of mind. Over time, this step becomes easier as you gain insight and perspective.

Next, you engage in an eye movement exercise, where you will be asked to focus your gaze on a moving target, such as a small light or the therapist’s hand, while you sit with the thoughts and feelings you discussed. This provides time for your mind to process what you have thought and felt about the trauma.

Finally, you will revisit the thoughts and feelings by reprocessing with your therapist. This process is repeated multiple times in session to help desensitize your mind to stressors that come from the trauma. Over time, you will learn how to understand and overcome the difficulties from your past.

If you or a loved one has experienced a traumatic life event, or if you would like to learn more about EMDR as an option for treatment, please feel free to contact me. My doors are always open to those looking to overcome their trauma and make improvements to their lives.

How can Vanessa Richards help?

Sometimes it can be difficult to ask for help. Do not let your fears and sadness continue to keep you from living a happy, healthy life. Contact me today and learn how we can get you closer to a place of wellbeing!

I provide evidence-based psychotherapy for children, teens, adults, couples, and families. I work particularly well with Hispanic/Latino families, as I am able to identify cultural nuances and (quite literally) speak the language. My treatment is the product of many years of study and experience, and I have helped many people just like you!

I am skilled in multiple modalities of treatment, with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy) and EFT (Emotion Focused Therapy) being a some of my specialties. As a Hispanic woman, I understand the challenges we have to face living in a different culture. I would love to have the opportunity to meet you and hear your story.

If you have experienced loss, trauma, or grief, EMDR and EFT can help you find the healing and restoration you deserve. I specialize in helping people of all ages process traumatic life events, whether those happened in childhood or later in life. You don’t have to let your pain and your fears continue to overwhelm you.

We can do this, together.

Interested? Let’s work together.

Great! I am excited to get to know you and learn about your story.

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