Jennifer Pinto | Trauma Therapist in Toronto
Therapist taking notes after performing an EMDR therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR is a type of evidence-based psychotherapy technique developed around 25 years ago (in 1987) to help patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Today, it has diversified into helping patients with trauma related to eating disorders, substance abuse, complex grief, and dissociative disorders. 

In recent years, EMDR has become a staple part of trauma therapy because of its effectiveness. A research funded by HMO Kaiser Permanente reported that 100% of single trauma and 77% of multiple trauma patients were no longer experiencing PTSD after six 50-minute sessions. 

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR is a psychotherapy technique that involves the patient recalling distressing events while receiving one of several types of bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements. It mimics the psychological state of REM sleep, which is associated with processing emotions and memories. The American Psychological Association recognizes EMDR as effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic PTSD. 

In EMDR therapy, the side-to-side eye movement technique is similar to the natural processes occurring during deep sleep phases. It soothes the amygdala, the brain area involved in emotional responses, and facilitates its coordination with other brain regions. Essentially, the eye movements used in therapy mirror the eye movements that occur during dreaming, aiding in the brain’s natural healing process.

What exactly happens during an EMDR therapy session? 

EMDR treatment is divided into eight distinct stages, beginning with a comprehensive history of the client, followed by a preparatory phase. During the next phase, which involves eye movements, the client reflects on a distressing memory and the self-belief linked to it. For example, someone who has experienced assault might think, “I am damaged or worthless.” As a trauma psychotherapist, my goal is to replace this with a positive self-view, such as, “I am valuable and in control of my life” and help the client to acknowledge all emotions and physical sensations associated with that particular memory.

EMDR therapy stimulates both brain hemispheres, helping you process the trauma. The positive belief is reinforced through bilateral movements. Sessions are usually an hour long and clients are recommended to attend 6 to 8 sessions. The theory behind EMDR suggests that the bilateral stimulation helps navigate around the brain’s trauma-impacted areas, facilitating the brain’s natural healing and self-soothing mechanisms.

During EMDR, clients often find new ways to understand, alter long-standing negative self-perceptions, and resolve their memories. For example, a person who has survived an assault might realise their lack of fault, feel safer in the present, and acknowledge the conclusion of the event, thereby regaining a sense of general safety in their life.

Zoomed laptop screen where a therapist has conducted a virtual EMDR therapy.

How Does Virtual EMDR Work?

Virtual EMDR is just as effective as in-person therapy. A study published in the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research found that virtual EMDR was effective in reducing trauma symptoms. 

During virtual sessions, clients use headphones and a screen to receive auditory and visual bilateral stimulation, guided by a therapist via video call. It is recommended for clients who prefer the comfort of their home for therapy or can’t visit the therapist’s office for a number of reasons. 

Who Is a Good Candidate for Virtual EMDR?

Virtual EMDR is suitable for individuals who are comfortable with technology, have a private space for sessions, and access to high speed internet. 

Candidates for virtual EMDR should not be experiencing severe mental health issues that require close, in-person monitoring. EMDR therapy can bring up intense emotions, so it’s important you have support to rely on.

As we continue to embrace technology in healthcare, virtual EMDR stands out as a promising option for those seeking flexibility and accessibility in their therapeutic journey. Everyone deserves to be heard. I offer virtual psychotherapy and EMDR services across Ontario with a focus on helping you find solutions and coping strategies. Please get in touch for a 15-minute free consultation today. (first-time clients only)