Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

How It Works

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a technique used to treat those afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder. The technique requires that the patient focus their mind on the thoughts, sensations, or feelings that trigger their post traumatic stress symptoms. While the patient focuses on these stimuli, the therapist will move their finger back and forth in front of the patient’s eyes. The patient focuses on the movement of the therapist’s finger for twenty to thirty seconds as they simultaneously focus on the negative thoughts that trigger their post traumatic reactions. By taking complete focus away from their negative thoughts and placing it on the moving object, the patient is able to reduce the anxiety that follows the negative thoughts or sensations. After this phase is complete, the patient once again focuses on the therapist’s moving finger for another twenty to thirty seconds, but instead replaces the negative thoughts with positive ones. This is the most common way in which eye movement desensitization reprocessing works. However, for some individuals the focal stimulus does not necessarily have to be visual. Success has also been attained by having patients focus on auditory or tactile stimuli.


EMDR was created by Francine Shapiro. The discovery of the therapeutic technique was purely coincidental as Francine Shapiro happened upon the technique while walking through a park in 1987. Shapiro was thinking about memories that gave her mental anxiety as she walked through the park. As she walked, she began to realize that as she moved her gaze from one object to the next, her negative feelings and thoughts seemed to be eased. In 1989, studies were published, such as the Brom study, that found EMDR to be effective sixty percent of the time. The name of the technique was changed from eye movement desensitization to the current eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in 1991. After intensive studies were conducted, EMDR ceased to be labeled as an experimental treatment in 1995. That same year, the EMDR institute was founded and is now located in Watsonville, California.