The “EMDR” Treatment for Trauma – Part 1

A Flock of Seagulls (Actually They Were Robins)

It was a beautiful autumn day. She had just seen her doctor. The news was bad. So she wandered into Central Park. Upset. Scared.

Then she noticed them. Flocks of red-breasted robins flying in V-formation, left to right, across the azure sky. She watched intently as they passed. She became lost in their flight.

Then, suddenly, realization.

“I feel…better!” she mumbled incredulously to herself.

All the way home she pondered what had just happened. Was it the birds themselves? Maybe it was their path of flight. The psychologist in her couldn’t ignore the neurological possibilities.

When she got home she invited some friends over, and sat each one down, one a time, asking them to think of something troubling to them.

You Want Me to Do What?

The subject sat, skeptical at first, his eyes following the good doctor’s fingers as she rapidly moved them back and forth in front of his face. It went on for several moments. Then came The Question:

“How do you feel now about the thing that’s troubling you?”


For each of her friends the outcome was the same. The repetitive, left-to-right eye movement seemed to reduce—if not eliminate—their annoyed or distressed feelings.

From these unusual beginnings some 20 years ago, Dr. Francine Shapiro developed the landmark psychotherapy technique known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing—EMDR for short.

Hope for Victims of Trauma

Today, EMDR has become a leading-edge treatment for a variety of issues, including:

  • Combat-related PTSD;
  • Rape and childhood sexual abuse;
  • Serious illness or injury;
  • Workplace harassment; and
  • Experiencing natural and man-made disasters.

The beauty of EMDR is that it’s not long-term therapy. Most patients see significant results in just 12 sessions or less.

Here’s how it works…

There’s a Little Microsoft in All of Us (and Apples Too)

Think of your brain as a computer. (Actually, computers were modeled after the human brain). We all have a kind of RAM memory that’s supposed to hold information temporarily until we can figure out where to store it in a more permanent part of our memory (think hard drive).

We process every experience we have in this way, moving it from RAM to hard drive. Except for experiences so overwhelming we don’t quite know how to process them. These get stuck in RAM.

I’m talking nasty stuff like:

  • Being raped and beaten by an adult family member when you’re just five.
  • Watching your Army buddy get blown to bits by an IED in Iraq.
  • Coming down with a life-threatening illness.
  • Surviving a terrible disaster like an earthquake or a terror attack.

Unprocessed—or stuck—experiences can worm their way back into our consciousness days, weeks, even years after they happened. They come as flashbacks…nightmares…intrusive and unpleasant thoughts.

Here’s the good news…EMDR can help you get unstuck.

[SPOILER: In Part Two I show you how.]

James Genovese, LPC, LCADC, is the founding director of Milestone Group, LLC, a full-service counseling and psychotherapy practice located in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He specializes in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other behavioral health issues. He is also a fully trained EMDR provider.

© James Genovese, LPC, LCADC / Milestone Group LLC (2012)