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I heard of EMDR, but what is it?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This is a trauma treatment that has been around for a couple decades and is quite successful.

The following is how I describe it to my clients:


When we go through our day, our brain puts what happens into file folders. These folders go onto our desk. For example, eye doctor folder, work folder, soccer game folder, etc. At the end of the day, we have quite a few folders on our desk and need to clean them up or else they get cluttered. A filing cabinet is a good place to put them! This is what scientists now believe is happening when we sleep and have rapid eye movements. Our brain is taking all the folders that are on our desk and filing them away in the cabinet for use later on - if they are needed (long term memory).

When a trauma occurs, that file stays on our desk and does not make it to the filing cabinet. When another event occurs that reminds us of that traumatic event, another page is added to the file. If the trauma is not dealt with, the pages keep adding up until the file is too thick to close and remains open and we live in constant trauma mode.

EMDR helps the brain to clean this trauma file - one page at a time - by doing the same eye movements while you are awake that you automatically do while you a

re sleeping. It can by done by following the therapist’s hand, watching a light, or tapping. Over time, you eventually file all the memories away in the filing cabinet of your memory and they are no longer open on your desk causing daily pain. This does not mean the memory is forgotten, it just does not hurt every day.


I have training to conduct EMDR on both adults and children. I find that children clear their desks quite quickly because they have less files filled. Adults can take a bit longer because of how many experiences we have had. When preparing for EMDR, I will use sandtray therapy and bibliotherapy. In a previous blog, I talked about sandtray (check it out here!), but I will take some time to explain bibliotherapy: it is essentially using books as a tool in the therapeutic process. For kids, they can relate to the characters in the story, seeing that others have the same problems they do, and learn new strategies to cope with their lives. For EMDR to be successful, you must be able to identify your feelings: how strong they are; where in your body you feel them; thoughts that go with them. I have a selection of books which help children identify all of these. Some books are everyday books that you may have on your bookshelf, others are more clinical and specific to psychology.

We have all gone through our own versions of trauma and sometimes our brains can sort it out on their own, but other times it just needs a little nudge in the right direction. EMDR, done in a safe, caring, and calm environment, is very beneficial to many people and can provide the nudge needed.

Vanessa Hernberg

Registered Psychologist

Aspire Psychological Services

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