Application of EMDR therapy to self-harming behaviors


Self-harm is frequently a trauma-driven coping strategy that can be understood from the perspective of the adaptive information processing (AIP) model and treated with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy (Shapiro, 1995, 2001). Self-harm is often connected with memories of adverse and traumatic life experiences. Identifying and processing these memories with EMDR therapy can put an end to the self-injurious behavior. In addition, self-harm is often based on a lack of regulation skills, and these skill deficits can be addressed in EMDR therapy as well. In this article, the authors describe strategies for treating self-harm throughout the 8 phases of EMDR. Although there is no single approach that applies to all cases, the therapist needs to take a careful history of self-harm, its historical origins, and its triggers and functions in the present to formulate a treatment plan. Often, in the authors' experience, self-harm functions as a self-soothing strategy that redissociates traumatic affect from childhood. Treatment strategies for Phases 3–8 of EMDR therapy are illustrated through case vignettes.






Dolores Mosquera
Colin Ross

Original Work Citation

Mosquera, D., & Ross, C. (2016). Application of EMDR therapy to self-harming behaviors. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 10(2), 119-128. doi:10.1891/1933-3196.10.2.119



“Application of EMDR therapy to self-harming behaviors,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 17, 2021,

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