EMDR Explained!

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know much about EMDR, a therapeutic technique used by our counselor Risa Bos. Risa very kindly sat down to help me understand, and I thought our conversation might help others understand too. Would you like to know more about EMDR and how it could help you or someone you care about? Read on!

EMDR - healing through your eyes!

EMDR – healing through your eyes!

Krista Bringley:  As a therapist here at Life Skills Resource Group, you offer a specialty that is new to our practice called EMDR.  I have heard of EMDR and its effectiveness as a therapeutic intervention, but I don’t know a lot about it or really understand it.  Can you help me understand?

Risa Bos:  Sure!  EMDR is an effective therapy that can be applied when working with several types of issues, such as anxietytrauma and particularly PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  EMDR stands for “Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”, and that’s what it does.  Through EMDR, I help my clients become less affected (desensitized) by dysfunctional thinking and traumatic memories, and assist them in reprocessing their feelings, beliefs and memories.

Krista:  That sounds interesting, and I’m sure many people can benefit from this therapy, but where does the “eye movement” part come in?  That’s what seems kind of strange to me.

Risa:  Well, EMDR was developed in a sort of organic way back in the late 1980’s by Dr. Francine Shapiro.  She found while walking in the park one day, that as she allowed her eyes to move back and forth taking in the beautiful scenery, her stress and the problems that had been bothering her somehow seemed less troubling.  This is the “eye movement” part of EMDR, and it is very similar to what has been observed during REM sleep, when a person’s eyes move from side to side while information is being processed in the brain.

Krista:  So during a session of EMDR, the client’s eyes are moving from side to side?

Risa:  Yes, that’s part of it, although the emphasis is on bilateral stimulation of the brain, which doesn’t have to be visual.  EMDR can also be performed using sounds that alternate from side to side, or by tapping or pulsing alternatively from side to side.  Some therapists use light bars—they recently included this technique on an episode of Criminal Minds, and that was pretty cool! Other therapists use headphones that play sounds and high-tech gadgets that pulse the fingers of one hand and then the other.

Krista:  Wow, that is really cool!  I even saw that episode, and it made me want to know more!  I also read that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently identified EMDR as a preferred treatment for PTSD.

Risa:  Yes, the WHO Practice Guidelines state that EMDR and CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) are the only treatments recommended for PTSD, in children, adolescents, and adults, and that no medications are recommended.  That really validates the legitimacy of the intervention, doesn’t it?

Krista:  Right, that’s pretty impressive!  Tell us more about what the client experiences during a session of EMDR.

Risa:  Well, I’ve been told by my clients that they feel very relaxed, that their level of distress is reduced and even that they feel tingly.  I ask the client some questions to identify their specific stressors or what issue we will work on, and about the level of disturbance the issue is causing in their life.  I ask the client to hold images in their mind of different aspects of the problem while they follow my fingers from side-to-side with just their eyes.  After each “set” of EMDR, (about 8 or 10 bilateral passes) I ask them to tell me what they are feeling, what occurs to them, what images they are seeing. The process evolves from there, it can be compared to being on a train and watching images outside the window as they go by.

Krista:  I have to say, it is really fascinating.  And feeling reduced distress sounds great!  In your experience, does it really work that quickly?  How many visits do you usually have with someone who wants EMDR?

Risa:  Of course, every client is different but a reduction in the level of distress typically happens rather quickly.  The first several sessions are information-gathering, so that I can design a specialized EMDR course for the client and learn what issues to target during therapy.  Once we begin the actual EMDR process—typically around the third or fourth session—relief is fairly immediate in most cases. 

Krista: Is there anything else that someone interested in EMDR needs to know?  Maybe how soon after experiencing a trauma someone should come in?

Risa:  It’s never too soon to address a traumatic event, and the sooner you take action the less likely it is that dysfunctional thinking and negative symptoms can take root and cause problems in your life.

Krista:  It sounds like EMDR is a type of treatment a lot of people can benefit from, how can clients schedule an appointment?

Risa:  Clients can contact me by phone at (407) 234-4861, or by email at risa@risabos.com.  I have flexible office hours, including evening appointments and weekend appointments.  I am happy to offer a free phone consultation to anyone interested in EMDR, to determine whether it is the right therapy for you.


In addition to contacting Risa Bos directly, you can also call the Life Skills Resource Group Orlando office at 407-355-7378 for information on Risa, EMDR, and all of our other counselors. I hope you enjoyed learning about EMDR!