Ask a Therapist: What is EMDR and What Problems Can it Treat?

Ask a Therapist: What is EMDR and What Problems Can it Treat?

By Dr. Katie Godfrey

I have been providing clients with support though a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for over the last twelve years.  EMDR is a fast-acting therapeutic process through which people are able to reprocess negative thoughts, feelings, or experiences. It is one of the most researched therapies and has consistently been shown to be highly effective treatment since its inception over 27 years ago.  Initially, EMDR was used for those who had experienced trauma or had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Now, research has determined that EMDR is very useful in many other aspects of healing. There are a vast range of problems and conditions we can treat with this form of therapy and can often achieve results more quickly than through traditional talk therapy.

Professionally, I have used EMDR to help clients in a myriad of areas including:                      

  • Trauma (of all types and severity)
  • Vicarious trauma (witnessing or hearing about trauma that happened to someone else and experiencing an overwhelming response - for example health care workers, therapists, police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, and others who have seen or heard about difficult events experienced by others)
  • Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Pre-verbal trauma (trauma and neglect in the infant/toddler years)
  • Childbirth trauma 
  • Moms who experienced a challenging, traumatic, or unexpected cesarean birth
  • Partners and Care Providers who witnessed a birth where they felt overwhelmed or fearful 
  • Anxiety and fear about sleepovers
  • Fear of flying 
  • Resuming driving after a car accident
  • Performance Anxiety: “Stage fright” for athletes, actors, musicians, lecturers and teachers
  • Academic Anxiety: Anxiety around studying, completing projects, test-taking, public speaking, etc.
  • Needle Phobia
  • Feelings of rejection and betrayal
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Feelings of anger
  • Disturbing memories
  • Unwanted personal beliefs ("I am a failure," "I am a bad person," etc.)
  • Intrusive and overwhelming thoughts
  • Body image issues
  • Grief and loss
  • Stress management
  • Relaxation
  • Relationship issues with parents, partners, or children

As you can see from this varied list, EMDR can be helpful for shifting many areas of "stuckness" with regard to emotions, memories, beliefs, and thoughts. I think of it as a useful tool whenever something that you know rationally is true (i.e. "I know I am ok") but "feels" somehow untrue or unclear ("I feel like I am not good enough"). EMDR can help your thoughts, your feelings, and your beliefs line up into a consistent sense of what is true for you. 

Oftentimes people tell me they do not understand why they feel “triggered” or “overwhelmed” by something.  With EMDR, the beauty is that you do not necessarily have to understand why you are responding in a particular way. Nor do clients have to go into explicit details about their negative experiences while undergoing EMDR therapy. The procedure is unique in many ways and well worth exploring if you are having concerns similar to the ones listed above. I or any of my colleagues would be happy to talk with you about EMDR and how it might help you get "unstuck" and moving forward in a positive direction in your life.  


Dr. Katie Godfrey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at The Catalyst Center where she practices talk therapy, EMDR, and Neurofeedback with individuals, couples, families, and children. 

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