Our eyes are the gateway to our world — the lenses through which we see beauty and too often the window into the trauma we experience.

At Cornerstone, we understand visual stimulation impacts our moods, our connections, and our recovery. How we perceive the world alters how we perceive ourselves.

That is why Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can be an important part of recovery from trauma and PTSD symptoms.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a structured therapy that encourages the patient to focus briefly on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories. 

Research shows EMDR therapy is a helpful treatment for disorders such as anxiety, depression, OCD, chronic pain, addictions, and other distressing life experiences.

The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and other national and international organizations recognize EMDR therapy as an effective treatment. 

How does EMDR work?

EMDR therapy is designed to help the brain with natural healing by resolving unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. EMDR does not rely on extensive talking about distressing issues and does not focus on changing the emotions or behaviors that result from a traumatic experience.

Under normal circumstances, events of the day are evaluated, connected to emotional factors, categorized, and stored. Usually, the limbic system regularly clears out the daily emotional baggage to be fresh for new feelings.

The EMDR process involves creating the right communication between three parts of the brain — the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala provides the alarm for stress. The hippocampus assists with learning and memory. The prefrontal cortex analyzes and controls behavior and emotion.

They impact our natural fight-or-flight response. When stress from a traumatic event goes unresolved, any images, thoughts and emotions connected to that moment can cause the brain to be essentially frozen in time. EMDR does not eliminate the memories, but it allows the brain to resolve the flight or fight response.

A therapist will guide a patient with traumatic memories through a series of mental steps concentrating on a past event, present triggers for recalling the trauma, and future pitfalls. At specific times during therapy, the patient will be asked to move their eyes in a certain way.

The activation of the brain stem by eye movement helps with categorization and storage of harmful memories over time. The result is a gain in control over traumatic memories so they are like any other memory. If the person can categorize an event as a long-past survival story, they may not be compelled to revisit the details.

What are the phases of EMDR?

It is a multi-phase plan that involves:

  • Patient history and treatment planning: Therapists will collect a full medical and emotional history of each patient, and they will work together to create treatment targets, which include past memories, triggers and goals.

  • Preparation: A therapist will explain the treatment process and go through the procedures, including practicing eye movement. This can include a ‘safe place’ exercise.

  • Assessment: This is where the memory that is being targeted is activated by identifying and assessing each memory component — image, cognition, affect, and body sensation.

  • Desensitization: The patient focuses on the memory while engaging in eye movements and discusses what new thoughts emerge. The therapist uses this information to create a new set of trials. This process continues until the memory is no longer distressing.

There are layers to each phase with the process ending with closure and re-evaluation. A therapist will work with the patient during re-evaluation to determine if the effects of the treatment have been maintained and what memories have emerged.

What challenges can benefit from EMDR?

EMDR is designed to help anyone — children and adults — deal with a wide variety of challenges. Among those are:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Chronic illness
  • Depression and bipolar disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief and loss
  • Pain
  • Performance anxiety
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Sexual assault
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Violence and abuse


A clear vision of an individual’s mental health is vital to living a comfortable life. At Cornerstone Foundations for Families, we believe that everyone deserves to have access to mental health resources, especially when traumatic issues impact our lives. 

Our mission is to help people meet life’s challenges by providing the skills, support, and hope needed for effective, fulfilling lives. Our three therapists Katy O’Brien, Misty Holt, and Courtney Miller offer EMDR therapy. Please feel free to contact us for professional counseling support or education on mental health issues related to poor sleep and other concerns.

We are here to help.