The transformation of EMDR: From technique to comprehensive psychotherapy


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive, phase-oriented psychotherapy that highlights the role of the brain’s information processing system in the development and treatment of a wide range of mental health issues. EMDR therapists are guided by the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model which proposes that psychopathology is due to a failure to adequately process traumatic or other adverse life experiences to a point of “adaptive resolution”. Various forms of bilateral stimulation (tracking fingers or a light moving back and forth for visual stimulation, listening to binaural tones, or receiving alternating taps on the hands) are used to activate and support the brain’s information processing system. Currently, there are more than 30 randomized controlled trials (RCT) demonstrating the effectiveness of EMDR for PTSD in adults; as such, it is considered an evidence-based, top-tier treatment for this condition. In addition, evidence is mounting in support of EMDR therapy for PTSD in children and adolescents, acute PTSD reactions associated with recent trauma exposure, combat PTSD, unipolar depression, chronic pain, and complex PTSD. Clinically, it is being used to address a wide range of diagnoses and issues. With its many structured protocols, EMDR therapy brings together elements from psychodynamic, body-centered, interpersonal, cognitive, behavioral, experiential, and attachment-focused psychotherapies. It uses an eight-phase approach to address the experiential contributors to a wide range of disorders. EMDR therapy attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for pathology, to the current situations that trigger maladaptive emotions, beliefs, behavior patterns, and sensations, and to the sense of mastery needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and overall mental health. Outline 1. What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy? a. Basic Tenets of the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) Model b. Use of Eye Movements/Bilateral Stimulation c. Addressing “Big T” AND “little t” Traumas d. Addressing Acts of Commission AND Omission e. Addressing Single, Discrete Events AND Complex/Developmental Trauma f. 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy g. Use of Clinical Interweaves h. Three-Pronged Approach – Past, Present Future Targets i. Themes of Responsibility, Safety, and Control 2. Evidence Base for EMDR therapy and Range of Applications a. PTSD b. Complex PTSD c. Compared to Other Evidence-Based Treatments d. Most Cost Effective and Time Efficient e. International Treatment Guidelines and Endorsements f. Other Psychiatric Diagnoses 3. Effects of Eye Movements in EMDR and Proposed Mechanisms of Action a. Eye Movements i. Reduce negative emotions, imagery vividness, emotional arousal ii. Increase episodic memory retrieval, recognition of true information, de-arousal, positive neurophysiological changes, thinking flexibility b. Mechanisms – a few examples - Working Memory, Orienting, and REM Hypotheses 4. Evolution of EMDR – From Technique to Comprehensive, Integrative Psychotherapy a. Influences from other Psychotherapy Models b. Integrating Elements from other Models c. Innovative Applications and Delivery Frameworks d. Versatile Psychotherapy – Ideal for Scaling-up






Deborah Korn

Original Work Citation

Korn, D. (2021, May). The transformation of EMDR: From technique to comprehensive psychotherapy. Presentation at the 32nd Annual Boston International Trauma Conference, Boston, MA



“The transformation of EMDR: From technique to comprehensive psychotherapy,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 29, 2021,

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