EMDR was developed 13 years ago to deal with the after effects of trauma. It was used and tested mostly on Vietnam Veterans who were suffering from intrusive memories from the War. Since then, it has become increasingly popular due to its ability to move the process of psychotherapy along at a swift pace. Not only does EMDR take the emotional charge off a traumatic event from the past; also, the meaning of that earlier event changes, leading to new self concepts and behaviors.

As the process evolved and became more widely used, therapists realized that they could use it on any troubling event or memory from the past. In my private practice, I work with many "everyday traumas" that cause people to have limiting beliefs about themselves. A child is so vulnerable to its environment in the first 5 or 6 years, that it often gets messages from events about itself;for example...I'm too big/small, lazy, stupid, the "wrong sex", and deficient in some way, don't deserve love, am powerless, am a disappointment.

All of these beliefs make sense to the child's mind, and they need to be explored and understood in that perspective before they can be released to make room for more realistic perspectives and beliefs about the self.


Bessel van der Kolk in discussing the research of Martin Teicher (Teicher et al, 1997) points out that with the new brain imaging technology, we have found that trauma, and the recalling of traumatic experiences occurs in the right hemisphere of the brain and to the exclusion of the left hemisphere. Regular "talking therapy", without EMDR uses language to process memories. Given that the left hemisphere becomes inactive when a traumatic memory is recalled, it is understandable that verbal therapies have a non-verbal body focus, which seems to stimulate inter-hemispheric activity.


The client is directed to hold a troubling image in awareness, with its accompanying sensory experiences, and the distorted negative belief (i.e. I am bad, it was my fault, I'm powerless, and I don't deserve love). Along with this is used alternate bilateral brain stimulation (by eye movements, sound moving from ear to ear or tapping). As the client follows this process, observing his feelings, he experiences a letting go of the feelings and the symptoms that developed as a result of this event. He then is free to live in the present, and feel safe again.


I was using EMDR with a patient who had Multiple Schlerosis to help her regulate her pain and emotional state. We began by focusing on the pain, along with a picture that represents the pain and where in the body the pain was felt, along with the level of disturbance of the pain (from 1 to 10), 10 being the worst it could be. The patient holds all this in awareness, along with the belief about the self they feel as they look at this scene.

She focused on the pain she felt in her ankle, and rated it at a level of disturbance of a 7. The picture was her collapsing onto the floor, when her ankle was too weak to hold her up. The belief she had about herself was "I can't take care of myself".

As we did the EMDR processing while she closed her eyes and tried to hold all these things in her awareness, she saw her self as a child being blamed in an angry way by her mother for not taking care of her younger sister when she was just age 6. Her sister fell out of her high chair and injured her face badly. As we stayed with all these parts of that experience, she had many new thoughts and awarenesses about what the appropriate responsibility roles of her parents and herself at that young age of 6 had been. She then began to release the feelings of her own "Badness" and the shame that she had felt from this. This shifted her feeling of unworthiness of having anything good happen to her.

We now needed to work on the pain again in her ankle. As she focused on it, using the EMDR stimulation it came down from a 9 to a 4, in intensity. As I would ask her the level of intensity of her pain, she would report what thoughts were going through her mind. She pictured many scenes from growing up where she would stop herself from expressing what she wanted or felt, in order to please others. I asked her to step into the scene she was picturing as the grown up adult of today and to help that child (her younger self) by asking the child what would she have needed to make that painful situation a little easier. The child's answer was to know that she was valued. This adult part of my patient was able to re-parent that child part of her in exactly the way the child needed it. The amazing thing I have found from working in this way for 13 years, is that when we simply ask (in a sincere, caring way) those parts of us that are so needy, what it is that they needed then, then we can give it to them, energetically, through our intention.

As we kept reprocessing and desensitizing other incidents she reported a level of pain that varied from 3 to 7. She was much more aware of the pain levels she had, and we built in ways for her to reduce her level of pain with imagery that she could use at any time she wanted.

The other thing that can be done to reduce pain with EMDR is just to focus on the pain using the alternate bi-lateral simulation. This changes a person's experience in their body.

There is much reserach to be found on EMDR on the web. Start with www.emdr.com and www.emdrportal.com. My web site also has articles about EMDR at http://susan.quintal.net.

Author's Bio: 

Susan Quinn is a Life Coach and Psychotherapist in Los Angeles. Visit her web site at www.susanquinn.net and sign up for her free newsletter. Call her for a free consultation at 310.600.3458.

Susan Quinn MFT 11911 San Vicente Bl # 280 Los Angeles, CA, 90049 web site www.susanquinn.net