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EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy for Anxiety Treatment

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EMDR or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a unique psychotherapy technique. It is incredibly useful in treating various kinds of anxieties. All around the world, psychotherapists have used EMDR in their work as a complement to traditional treatment methods. The technique is effective for those patients who have experienced different emotional traumas. Up to the present moment, many psychological problems can be solved much faster with the help of EMDR compared to traditional forms of psychotherapy.

What is Anxiety?

By contemporary definition, anxiety is a human tendency to worry about different life moments. Most people feel anxious about important, potentially life-changing events. Medical attention is required when this condition occurs for no apparent causes. Anxiety manifests itself in a whole group of conditions called anxiety disorders. Increased anxiety can occur at any age. The main reasons for this state are various kinds of emotional experiences, peculiarities of upbringing and family environment, post-traumatic stress, and internal conflict, represented, as a rule, by problems with self-esteem and dissatisfaction.

Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be divided into two main categories: physiological and psychological. The first type includes shortness of breath, increased pulse, chest tightness, heart pain, headache, dizziness, tremors, general drowsiness, sweating, nausea, pain in the throat, numbness of the limbs, and impaired thermoregulation. Psychological symptoms include mental disorientation and a sense of fear.

Anxiety disorders are among the most typical mental health problems in Europe and the countries of North America. Sufferers often experience excessive anxiety, fear, as well as a desire to avoid potentially stressful situations. In the US, the annual costs associated with such psychological problems are estimated at $42.3 million. In the Europoean Union territory, more than 65 million people suffer from different anxiety disorders (FeaturedNeuroscienceOpen). Up to the present moment, North America has the highest number of people living with anxiety: eight out of a hundred experience excessive anxiety. By comparison, in East Asia, the number is much lower: only three in a hundred have similar problems. Contemporary scientists have discovered that women are two times more likely to suffer from it than men. Men and women under 35 years old represent the most vulnerable category (ScienceDaily). At particular risk are pregnant women and young mothers.

Why EMDR Has Become Popular

Eye movement trauma desensitization and reprocessing is a specific psychological technique. In EMDR, specialists pay close attention to spontaneously repetitive eye movements, appearing as a reaction to unpleasant thoughts. The method appeared in 1987. Its inventor was a American psychotherapist Francine Shapiro. The idea of trying it came up occasionally while she was walking in the park, thinking about something emotionally low. Francine noticed that the negative thoughts suddenly disappeared (Solomon, 160). On closer examination, she realized it happened after a series of spontaneous and straightforward eye movements from side to side and then up and down on the diagonal.

When the disturbing thoughts disappeared, the negative charge reduced significantly. To check the theory, Francine started to move her eyes, focusing on different unpleasant thoughts and sad memories. With a simple set of exercises, the negative feelings lost their emotional coloring. The psychologist asked other people to do the same movements, and the results were striking. Initially, psychologists could not understand how this process worked. The anxiety level decreased in practice, and the participants could take worrying situations more calmly and realistically. This psychotherapy technique was discovered by chance. However, in less than 20 years, it has become famous worldwide.

Nowadays, contemporary psychologists have a better understanding of how it works. EMDR is actively used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combatants, victims of violence, catastrophes, natural disasters, and people suffering from phobias, panic attacks, and dissociative disorders. When used in veterans of military conflicts, the patients free themselves from painful obsessive thoughts and memories, nightmares, and other manifestations of PTSD in a shorter period. EMDR also improves the general condition of patients dealing with addictions, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunctions.

Why is EMDR Used to Treat Anxiety?

The technique of EMDR is based on the idea that all people have a unique psychophysiological mechanism that functions as an adaptive information processing system. More and more specialists choose EMDR because of its efficiency and the absence of side effects. EMDR works. During treatment sessions, spontaneous processing and neutralization of any traumatic information occur. These processes are accompanied by positive changes in cognition, emotions, and behavior.

EMDR helps relieve anxiety. Severe mental trauma and stress can block the activity of the adaptive information processing system. In these cases, traumatic memories and associated representations, and affective and behavioral reactions do not receive their adaptive resolution, continuing to be stored in the central nervous system in a form conditioned by the experienced states. The eye movements launch the processes that activate the accelerated processing of traumatic experience (Shapiro). A repetitive series of eye movements lead to unblocking of an isolated neural network of the brain, where traumatic experiences are stored.

Many people suffering from various forms of anxiety need help from a qualified specialist to overcome their existing mental health problems. The technique is relatively new, so the specialist should have experience with EMDR and practice treating patients with self-doubt, anxiety, depression, phobias, panic attacks, sexual disorders, addictions, and eating disorders. After the first session, the patient can begin to remember the traumatic event in a more neutral way without such intense emotions. Patients begin to perceive what happened more realistically and constructively and to relate more positively to themselves. In addition to positive changes in thoughts and beliefs, obsessive images of the traumatic event usually disappear.

EMDR is a widespread psychological technique of the 21st century when many worldwide suffer from different kinds of psychological disorders. This technique can be used as an independent psychotherapy method for PTSD or as one of the stages of therapeutic intervention to quickly eliminate the most painful experiences and symptoms in patients with past mental trauma. EMDR promotes emotional balance, the formation of adequate self-esteem, and self-confidence.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Svitlana Drach is a psychologist and co-founder at psychology4u.net.


  • “Anxiety Disorders.” What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder?, www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/about-mental-illness/learn-more-about-conditions/anxiety-disorders/.
  • “Women and People under the Age of 35 at Greatest Risk of Anxiety.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 6 June 2016, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160606081710.htm.
  • FeaturedNeuroscienceOpen Neuroscience ArticlesPsychology·September 30, 2020·3 min read, et al. Women and People Under the Age of 35 Most at Risk of Anxiety. 6 June 2016, neurosciencenews.com/sex-age-anxiety-psychology-4386/.
  • Shapiro, Francine. “Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.” Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, Ed 2 (2018).
  • Solomon, Roger M., and Louise Maxfield. “Francine Shapiro.” (2019): 158-162.

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