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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

Guest Contributor:

Nedra Cannon, LMSW, CATP, ACSW

What is EMDR?

EMDR is an evidence-based practice that has been shown to have an 80% success rate with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). EMDR stimulates our brain's natural ability to process life events so that we can let go of the emotional distress connected to our past.

What happens when someone experiences a traumatic event?

1. Trauma is stored in the body

For example, rape survivors may find that certain positions during sexual activity suddenly result in a trauma response, or survivors of a military ambush may find themselves reflexively attacking people who walk up behind them. We can also train our bodies to respond reflexively to different circumstances in sports, combat or self-defense. It makes sense, then, that trauma would be stored as another type of circumstance that requires a reactive response. There are several types of trauma therapies that use somatic awareness and then treatment ends so that client may begin to work with trauma memories and EMDR is one of them.

2. Memory networks

Memories are linked together in networks, and these networks are formed by emotions. So when you have an experience as a child that is humiliating, it makes an impression and every experience afterward that feels the same way gets added to the network. When processing trauma, we can work backwards from a current trigger (occasionally a body position) to the other memories in the network and often all the way back to the original memory.

3. Trauma memories usually involve a false belief

For most people, language is how we understand things so it makes sense that our memory networks can be identified by the core belief attached to them. For example, the humiliation network described above may have the false belief, “I’m a failure,” or “I’m not good enough” attached to it.

4. Trauma is an event or memory that wasn’t processed properly

Trauma memories are really overwhelming and cannot be deconstructed, assessed and sorted through the way that non-trauma memories are. Instead, the entire memory gets filed away, but that means we’re storing a bunch of unnecessary stuff, which gets dragged out when triggered, or avoided, and leaves us on edge against future threats.

5. Reprocessing involves installing correct beliefs

EMDR reprocesses the experience of the event to imbue it with new meaning. So the belief, “I’m not good enough,” becomes “I am enough,” and this new belief is internalized in a way that cannot be achieved by strict cognitive-based therapies.

EMDR Resources

  • Burns, M. (Producer & Director). (2011). EMDR: We transform pain or we transmit it [Documentary]. United States: Michael P. Burns.

  • Coleman, M. (2016). Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

  • Osborne, S. (2017) The Power of EMDR.

  • Parnell, L. (2008). Tapping in: A step-by-step guide to activating your healing resources through bilateral stimulation. Boulder, CO: Sounds True Books.

  • Shapiro, F. (2013). Getting past your past: Take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books.

  • Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.

Guest Contributor

Nedra Cannon, LMSW, CATP, ACSW

Nedra has a BSW (Ferris State University) and a MSW (Grand Valley State University). She is an EMDR Therapist, with advanced training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Child and Adolescent Trauma, Women's Trauma Recovery, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Ms. Cannon also specializes in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety, Chronic Pain, and Mood Disorders. She describes herself as a culturally sensitive therapist that is attuned to the specific needs of her clients and will meet them wherever they are on their journey. You can connect with Ms. Cannon on Facebook at

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