EMDR Therapy in San Diego

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Trauma is a common occurrence that many people struggle with. In fact, an estimated 60% of men and 50% of women will experience at least one traumatic experience in their life time. If traumatic experiences affect daily functioning, trauma can turn into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can benefit from therapeutic treatment.

Recovery from trauma is often achieved through programs that include a variety of techniques. Therapists may use a variety of evidence-based methods to treat traumatic experiences. One such proven method is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a type of therapy proven to help in the recovery from trauma and other stressful life events. For some, EMDR can help process trauma faster than traditional psychotherapies. EMDR therapy can be used as a sole treatment or in conjunction with medication and other therapy methods.

Unlike other forms of therapy, EMDR doesn’t involve lengthy talk therapy sessions. Neither does it require clients to complete homework on their own. Instead, EMDR therapy works by using techniques that help the brain heal from unprocessed traumatic memories.

The Body’s Response to Traumatic Events & Memories

Experiencing a traumatic event can cause the brain to disconnect from the event in an attempt to cope. The stored, unprocessed event is essentially a memory frozen in time. This can include all the traumatic feelings, thoughts, and even physical sensations associated with the trauma.

EMDR works by retraining the brain to reduce the negative emotions associated with past trauma. This is done by refocusing the brain by executing certain eye movements and other subtle cues. At the same time, a therapist can provide guidance through the process of mentally revisiting the traumatic event(s).

What Conditions Can EMDR Treat?

EMDR is helpful for a variety of conditions in both children and adults. EMDR therapy was initially designed to help treat PTSD but has now been researched and proven to help with other conditions.

Conditions that can be treated using EMDR include:

  • Eating disorders
  • Grief, loss, sleep disturbances
  • Personality disorders
  • Depression
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Sexual assault
  • Substance addiction/abuse
  • PTSD 
  • Phobias, panic attacks, chronic anxiety
  • Violence and physical abuse 
  • Stress from chronic illness
Conditions Treated with EMDR in San Diego

The Eight-Phase Approach

If therapists decide that EMDR therapy may be helpful, they will likely follow a standard eight-phase approach to complete the therapy.

The phases are as follows:


  1. History –The first phase involves identifying those memories and experiences related to past trauma. Identifying the current triggers of these past events. Outlines what coping skills will be needed to have a successful future.
  2. Preparation – The therapist will begin by explaining the EMDR treatment to provide feelings of safety and control. Various stress reduction methods can be taught for use during future sessions and in-between sessions.
  3. Assessment – An initial, broad assessment of a traumatic memory. This includes identifying a visual image of the memory, related emotions and bodily sensations, and any negative beliefs as they relate to the memory.
  4. Desensitization – Focusing on the memory while the therapist guides with certain eye movements or small physical movements designed to distract negative emotions away from the memory of the event.
  5. Installation – Replacing the old negative thoughts and feelings with new, more positive thoughts and emotions.
  6. Scanning – surveying the body to identify and address any remaining uncomfortable body sensations.
  7. Closure – Empowering with helpful coping methods that can be used in between sessions and until the next guided therapy session.
  8. Reassessment – Review the progress of EMDR therapy and discuss success and areas of improvement. More desensitization treatment may be needed for other memories or for developing more coping skills for in-between sessions.

What is an EMDR Session Like?

The psychology community created a thoughtful eight-phase approach to EMDR therapy because therapists understand that clients need to feel safe and comfortable before revisiting trauma. Understandably, nervousness and uncertainty can occur before the first EMDR session. To perform EMDR, a therapist must be licensed and undergo a rigorous training course.

A typical EMDR session will last anywhere from 60-90 minutes. The methods used during the session are all non-invasive. The therapist will ask to revisit an agreed-upon traumatic event or memory to begin the session. At the same time, the therapist may guide the focus of the eyes on the therapist’s finger as the finger moves from side to side.

In some cases, a therapist may use a machine with lights that move from side to side instead. A therapist may also use techniques such as EMDR tapping, which is simply performing soft, alternating taps on the knees or other external body parts while focusing on the memory.

The rapid eye movements performed in the treatment are somewhat similar to what is experienced during the nightly REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase. It is still unclear why these eye movements are effective in treating trauma. However, many people report success in reducing the frequency and intensity of traumatic memories after their session(s).

Side Effects & Benefits

EMDR has few side effects and can be very beneficial for treatment of trauma and mental health disorders. EMDR can be associated with emotional fluctuations, vivid dreams, and feelings of vulnerability. Part of the plan before starting the desensitization phase of EMDR is to address these potential side effects and provide coping mechanisms.

EMDR can provide benefits beyond treating a traumatic memory. This kind of therapy can help change negative thinking, decrease chronic pain, and improve self-esteem. Additionally, EMDR requires minimal talking and can yield fast positive results.

Side Effects and Benefits of EMDR in San Diego

EMDR in San Diego

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based therapeutic technique that is commonly used to treat traumatic experiences and PTSD. After more research, EMDR has been proven to be helpful in treating a variety of mental health conditions. With the guidance of a licensed therapist, EMDR’s 8 phase process can help retrain the brain away from negative memories and towards a positive outlook.

If you or someone you know wants to know more about EMDR therapy in San Diego, CA, reach out to Healthy Life Recovery today. Our specially-trained therapists can diagnose and treat clients using the latest recovery methods. If you’d like to know more about EMDR in San Diego, please contact us.

Dr. Sanajai Thankachen

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen graduated from Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medicine in 2000. He completed his residency in psychiatry in 2008 at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York. Dr. Thankachen is currently working with Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists in an outpatient practice, as well as working at multiple in-patient psychiatric and medical units bringing his patients the most advanced healthcare treatment in psychiatry. Dr. Thankachen sees patients with an array of disorders, including depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, anxiety, and dementia-related problems.

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Dr. Sanajai Thankachen

Edited for Clinical Accuracy By:

Sean Leonard, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Sean Leonard is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. He received his master’s degree in adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner from Walden University and a second postmaster specialty in psychiatry mental health nurse practitioner from Rocky Mountain University. Sean has experience working in various diverse settings, including an outpatient clinic, inpatient detox and rehab, psychiatric emergency, and dual diagnosis programs. His specialty areas include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, ADHD, and OCD.

More About Sean Leonard

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