Emdr Therapy

Trauma Therapy for Waterloo Region

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.
— Carl Jung

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a highly effective therapy for addressing trauma and attachment issues. While it was first used with combat veterans, its success now extends to children, adults, and adolescents and is frequently used with first responders, as well. 

The therapy

EMDR believes that our brain is naturally healthy and has the ability to keep us that way. But if a memory is stored improperly (for example, if the proper storage is interrupted by an unmet childhood need or traumatic incident), we can develop dysfunctional thinking or experiences. 

If a memory isn’t integrated, then it gets stuck in its initial state form (i.e. whatever was going on at time of traumatic event.) If it’s not integrated, then other things latch on to this memory, known as “associative channels.” It influences how we view the world, how we interpret things, how we behave, and how we think. Similar later experiences are then stored with that initial memory, which is where these channels come in to play.

For example, let’s say you were laughed at in first grade for not knowing your home address, and this memory doesn’t integrate properly.  A negative thought about yourself now gets attached to this experience. (Let’s say it’s “I’m stupid.”) Fast forward…you’re now an adult and your partner gently teases you for forgetting to plug in the kettle when you tried to make tea. Even though it feels like a simple exchange, you feel humiliated and ashamed. This event may have reinforced your first grade experience along with all those feelings, body sensations, and thoughts you had at the time. That voice “I’m stupid” comes up again. Maybe your face feels hot with shame. We can look at that exchange between you and your partner, but EMDR goes back to that “touchstone” experience in the first grade. If we can resolve those feelings and thoughts of the first grader, the adult won’t feel so impacted either. 

What happens during processing


As you process the past memory, your brain can go all over the place. But typically, your train of thought will go through the following associative channels:

  • Belief

  • Perpetrator

  • Triggers

  • Type of Event

  • Physical Sensation

  • Emotions

  • Single Event

So, for example, you might go from “I’m stupid” to "this isn't working" to “I feel a tightness in my chest” to “I feel so angry at the teacher.” All of this is where your brain needs to be going in order to process that memory…just follow it, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense at the time. Your brain knows what it’s doing!

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phases of treatment

1. Attachment and Trauma History

 We’ll review your past to find touchstone moments that might be impacting struggles you experience today. 

2. Preparation

This is the part where we make sure you have grounding strategies to manage intense emotions. We also talk about dissociation, because dual awareness is really important for EMDR to work. This means, we are calling up a memory from the past, but are keeping one foot in the present.

3. Assessment

Here we access and activate the trauma network so we can work on that touchstone memory. You do this by pulling up an image that represents the worst part of your memory, which will bring with it those distressing emotions and body sensations. We’ll pinpoint what present day dysfunctional belief is connected to that memory. (For example, “I’m stupid.)

4. Desensitization

As you are thinking of this image, you’ll use dual stimulation (through eye movements, taps on the knee, beeps in your ears, or buzzes in your hand) to reduce the emotional distress associated with the memory.

5. Installation of Positive Cognition

Once the emotional distress is down to a “0,” we will change that negative thought about yourself (“I’m stupid”) to a positive one (“I’m smart”).

6. Body scan

To see if we’ve cleared all the associative channels, you’ll do the body scan. Are there any body sensations that suggest you might still be holding on to some distress? Or maybe something that doesn’t quite fully believe the positive congition? If so, we just go back to the eye movement, beeps, etc. 

7. Closure

If the emotional distress decreased but isn’t at a “0” by the end of the session, this means containing the emotions so you can continue on with your day. But if the distress is gone and you adopted the new positive belief about yourself, this memory is processed and done. 

8. Re-evaluation

In our next session we might check in to see if that distress is still at a “0” to ensure it’s been resolved.



EMDR International Association
EMDR Canada
Myths about EMDR

It might be a bit of a dry read, but check out the EMDR International Association's information sheet on EMDR for some further details.