EMDR Therapy: What Does It Treat?

Published Jun 3, 2024 • By Candice Salomé

EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a method primarily used to treat cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it is also effective in managing other mental health conditions.

So, what exactly is EMDR? What conditions can it address? How does a session work, and who should you consult?

We'll tell you everything in our article!

EMDR Therapy: What Does It Treat?

What is EMDR?

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, was first described in scientific publications by the psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987.

Initially tested on individuals suffering from previous mental trauma, such as Vietnam War veterans, EMDR targets individuals' traumatic memories. It aims to address the psychological, physical, or relational consequences related to a psychic trauma. The effectiveness of EMDR was validated in 2013 by the World Health Organization.

EMDR is practiced alongside a psychologist or psychiatrist over several sessions. During these sessions, the practitioner moves their fingers in front of the patient's eyes for them to follow with their gaze. They may also use auditory and tactile stimuli, such as on the hands.

EMDR can be recommended following a traumatic shock. When the mind is overwhelmed and the brain is unable to process or digest certain information, it can remain stuck on this event without the patient even being aware. This can lead to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or neurotic problems.

What conditions can EMDR therapy treat?

EMDR is effective in many cases. It allows numerous patients to heal from certain traumas, emotional shocks, or bereavements. This therapy also helps treat disorders and manifestations that may result from:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Night terrors
  • Nightmares
  • Tendency to isolate
  • Certain eating disorders (ED)
  • Somatization
  • Depressive states

How does an EMDR therapy session take place?

EMDR follows an 8-phase treatment protocol:

Diagnosis and Planning

The first step is to ensure EMDR is suitable for the patient and their issues. This involves an evaluation to confirm the patient's capacity to face their traumatic memories, as they will be revived during therapy. The practitioner then prepares a treatment plan.

Preparation and Relaxation

The practitioner prepares the patient by explaining the session's process. They train the patient in relaxation techniques and ensure they can control the emotions that will follow the revival of traumatic memories.


During this phase, the practitioner and patient identify the memories to be treated. For each anxiety-inducing event or situation in the present, linked to a traumatic past event, the patient must choose an image representing the event or situation, a negative idea associated with the event ("negative cognition"), and a positive idea to boost self-esteem ("positive cognition").


Here, the patient focuses on the traumatic image, the negative idea, and the bodily sensations. The practitioner moves their fingers or a light source in front of the patient's eyes, alternately from side to side. Other stimuli, such as sounds or tactile stimulations, can also be used in this phase.

The patient follows the natural mental associations that occur during this exercise. The series of stimulations continue until the memory is no longer a source of disturbance and is associated with calm feelings and positive, constructive thoughts.


This phase aims to verify the accuracy of the positive belief and strengthen its link with the targeted memory.

Body Scan

The goal here is to connect the positive belief established during the installation phase with the physical sensations felt by the patient.


At the end of an EMDR session, the practitioner ensures the patient is in a stable emotional state. They also prepare the patient to react appropriately (through relaxation exercises) if the memory of the traumatic experience resurfaces between sessions.


At the beginning of the next session, the practitioner evaluates the effects of the previous session and decides whether to continue treating the same memory or move on to another targeted memory.

Each session lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. It is possible to have up to 3 sessions for an isolated trauma, or up to 20 for a more significant case.

Who should you consult for EMDR therapy?

To practice EMDR in the US, therapists must complete EMDR Basic Training, which is often offered by organizations like the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA). This training includes both didactic and practical components. EMDR can be practiced by a licensed psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, in an office, hospital, or even online.

Caution: when the traumatic event has caused deep disturbances, EMDR is not without risk, and it is better to avoid it. Sessions can indeed trigger severe dissociative episodes, which are then difficult to treat.

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Take care!

avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialzes in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sports. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more

Who reviewed it: Victoire Schultz, Health Writer

Victoire holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and is currently pursuing a master's in health data sciences.

Today, Victoire works at Carenity as a Data Scientist intern, where she leverages her knowledge in... >> Learn more

1 comment

on 6/8/24

Hello and happy weekend. Stay well. EMDR, I'm in it. Kinda diff, but cool too. We used to do tappers, not eye movements, to help w stressors, but, now I'm thinking of moving again, so we're more just talking. Forget why I thought it's good idea, but therapist is amazing!! Waiting on new cell, so at local library using computers to finish emails & catch up. If EMDR is of interest, do research to find best fit, therapist-wise for u. Typically there are limited amount of sessions.

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