EMDR: A useful resource as we deal with tragedy

Posted By on Dec 17, 2012 in Notes for the Family

Hello families!

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This technique was designed by Dr. Francine Sharpiro, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. Dr. Sharpiro created EMDR based on the Adaptive Information Processing Model. This model suggests that chronic and acute stress and anxiety is due to a maladaptive encoding in the brain. Maladaptive encoding occurs because severely disturbing or traumatic life events and information are so powerful that it can override the brain’s natural capability of processing the memory fully.

We are all susceptible to having our normal coping mechanisms overridden by distressing, traumatic or negative life events. When this happens, our memories and the associated stimuli surrounding this event can become inadequately processed in our brain. It is like the memory gets fragmented in the brain. And this fragmentation can cause high degrees of stress, irritability and anxiousness.

This can lead to disfunction in our lives. What often happens then results in physical disturbances like disturbed sleep, flashbacks and depression. Improper memory encoding can create obsessive and intrusive thoughts, rage and hypervigilance. Other effects include emotional numbing, insecurity, and self-doubt. People will often try to cope with these disturbances through drugs and alcohol or addictive behaviors. This can result in damage to individuals and to their relationships.

The most common example can be seen in the post-trauamtic stress that many soliders exhibit as they return from active combat. Post-traumatic stress can cause a solider to continually replay in their minds events that were tragic and horrific. Loud sounds like slammed doors can trigger combat memories. But it is important to note that any one can suffer from disrupted memory encoding.

Many individuals who have experienced infidelity and betrayal in their relationships report highly distressing and traumatic symptoms.

Abuse and loss are other examples. How many of us experienced severe shock over the shooting that took place this weekend?

EMDR is a therapeutic technique that was designed to help reprocess the maladaptive encoding. By a gentle processing of recalling the events, EMDR can help recode memory and store it in the appropriate places in the brain. This process can alleviate the psychological pain and distress that occurs to us throughout our lives.

In the wake of the recent school shooting, it is important to understand symptoms related to disrupted processing. Are you noticing persistent intrusive thoughts? Are those events going over and over in your mind, as if you cannot turn them off? Watch for signs of stress and anxiety in yourself, your children, and your friends.

It is important not to pathologize people because they are have been overwhelmed. This is especially important for children. If your child is exhibiting symptoms listed above, consider seeking professional counselors trained in EMDR. It is a very gentle and very effective treatment. And it can help. The United State Department of Veteran Affairs rates it as one of the most effective methods for dealing with post combat stress in soliders.

Please do take care of yourselves and each other.




  1. I just wanted to say this is fantastic and something more counselors should look into with their clients. Thank you sir.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Kenney,

      I think incorporating interpersonal skill building into our work with clients can greatly enhance their coping abilities and their overall life satisfaction. Thank you for your kind response!

      Take good care,


      Post a Reply

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