What is EMDR and how does it work?


EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing. Quite a mouthful but, simply put, it has the following meaning: using eye movements to process a memory again and make it less sensitive.

The eye movements are a distracting stimulus. You can also experience the distracting stimulus in a different form, for example as sounds panning left and right (e.g., clicking sounds via your headphones) or by tactile stimulation (e.g., alternately tapping on your left and right shoulders, or by holding a vibrating sensor in both hands). The distraction puts a ‘load’ on a particular part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex), which leads to changes in the traumatic memory. How this works exactly has not been established yet, but in brain scans, it shows that the areas in the brain involved in sensory storage, emotional activation and reasoning all become more active during EMDR.

The treatment

During EMDR treatment, you will be asked to deliberately recall the memory, your thoughts about it, and any accompanying emotions and physical sensations into your consciousness. Therefore, you must be willing to re-experience the emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations associated with recalling the painful memory. This can be quite stressful, but your professional will be there to guide you through it step by step.

Throughout the treatment, you will think back to the traumatic event or events, including the accompanying images, feelings and thoughts. This will allow you to process the event. As you recall the event, you will be presented with a distracting task. This will usually be in the form of ‘clicks’ via your headphones, which are played alternately in your left and right ear.

You will then go through a number of ‘sets’, with a short break in between. A set often entails a stream of thoughts, feelings and sensations and your professional will ask you what comes to mind.

The duration of the treatment depends on the number of traumatic memories you have and the severity of these memories. Your professional will determine this together with you during the treatment.




Keijsers, G. P. J., Van Minnen, A., Verbraak, M., Hoogduin, C. A. L. & Emmelkamp, P., (2017). Protocollaire behandelingen voor volwassenen met psychische klachten

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