Attention A T users. To access the menus on this page please perform the following steps. 1. Please switch auto forms mode to off. 2. Hit enter to expand a main menu option (Health, Benefits, etc). 3. To enter and activate the submenu links, hit the down arrow. You will now be able to tab or arrow up or down through the submenu options to access/activate the submenu links.

PTSD: National Center for PTSD

Menu
Menu

Quick Links

Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My healthevet badge
EBenefits Badge
 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD

 

Public

This section is for Veterans, General Public, Family, & Friends

This section is for Veterans, General Public, Family, and Friends

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD

You Can Also

Practice guidelines have identified that trauma-focused psychotherapies have the most evidence for treating PTSD. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one type of trauma-focused psychotherapy.

EMDR can help you process upsetting memories, thoughts, and feelings related to the trauma. By processing these experiences, you can get relief from PTSD symptoms.

How Does It Work?

After trauma, people with PTSD often have trouble making sense of what happened to them. EMDR helps you process the trauma, which can allow you to start to heal. In EMDR, you will pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while calling to mind the upsetting memory. You will do this until the way you experience the memory shifts and becomes less distressing.

Although EMDR is an effective treatment for PTSD, there is disagreement about it works. Some research shows that the back and forth movement is an important part of treatment, but other research shows the opposite.

What Can I Expect?

During the first stage, you will learn about physical and emotional reactions to trauma. You and your provider will discuss how ready you are to focus on your trauma memories in therapy. To prepare, you will learn some new coping skills.

Next, you will identify the "target", or the upsetting memory you want to focus on, including any negative thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations related to the memory. You will hold the memory in your mind while also paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like your provider's moving finger, a flashing light, or a tone that beeps in one ear at a time) until your distress goes down. This will last for about 30 seconds at a time, and then you will talk about what the exercise was like for you.

Eventually, you will focus on a positive belief and feeling while you hold the memory in your mind. Towards the end of treatment, your provider will re-assess your symptoms to see if you need to process other targets.

What Are the Risks?

You may feel uncomfortable when focusing on trauma-related memories or beliefs, especially at first. These feelings are usually brief and people tend to feel better as they keep doing EMDR. Most people who complete EMDR find that the benefits outweigh any initial discomfort.

Group or Individual?

EMDR is an individual therapy. You will meet one-to-one with your provider for each session.

Will I Talk in Detail about My Trauma?

No, in most cases you will not be asked to talk about the details of your trauma out loud. But you will be asked to call your trauma to mind in session.

Will I Have Homework?

No, EMDR does not require you to complete homework or practice assignments between sessions.

How Long Does Treatment Last?

EMDR usually involves 1-3 months of weekly 50-90 minute sessions. Many people start to notice improvement after a few sessions. And the benefits of EMDR can last long after your final session with your provider.

Choosing the Best Treatment for You

Trying to figure out which PTSD treatment is best for you? For more videos about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and other treatments that work, get started with the PTSD Treatment Decision Aid.

Date this content was last updated is at the bottom of the page.

Share this page

About Face

Learn from Veterans how PTSD Treatment can turn your life around.

PTSD Coach Online

Tools to help you manage stress.

Search Pilots

Search PILOTS*, the largest citation database on PTSD.
What is PILOTS?

Subscribe

Sign up to receive the PTSD Monthly Update.

The National Center for PTSD does not provide direct clinical care, individual referrals or benefits information.

PTSD Information Voice Mail:
(802) 296-6300
Contact Us: ncptsd@va.gov
Also see: VA Mental Health

FacebookTwitterYouTube