By Suzanne B. Russell, LPC


EMDR May Be Your Breakthrough for Anxiety


Clients ask, “Must I suffer with panic attacks, flashbacks, and this feeling of being overwhelmed for the rest of my life?”


Happily, the answer is an emphatic, “NO.” There is a new type of treatment available known as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR is a therapeutic approach for treating experientially based disorders and emotional difficulties that are caused by disturbing life events: combat stress most often known as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, assaults, panic attacks, severe anxiety, and upsetting childhood/teen experiences.) Even though the abuse may have occurred decades ago, you may still have flashbacks of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse that have tormented you throughout your life.


What Is the Process of EMDR Like?


During the first two phases, you share your history of past traumas, and your therapist prepares you for treatment. In phase 3, you identify the most distressing moment of the event and share with the therapist what you are thinking, feeling, and how all of this may make your body feel (somatic components). Next, in phase 4 you focus on the memory for about 20-30 seconds while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation such as eye movements, auditory or tactile stimulations. This alternating pattern of recalling the disturbing event and using eye movement is repeated until all disturbance is eliminated. Then, in phase 5, a related positive self-referencing belief is integrated with the traumatic event; such as, “I did the best I could,” or “None of this was my fault.”

The therapist knows the processing is complete when there is no somatic distress (sweaty palms, flushed face, rapid heartbeat, stomach aches, tightness in chest, shortness of breath). This is phase 6 of the process. Phase 7 is a summation process with the goal of safety assessment before the session ends. In phase 8, you and your therapist re-evaluate the treatment progress at the beginning of the next session. To ensure that all disturbance related to the traumatic memory is eliminated, the therapist helps you identify triggers and concerns about future events.


For example, if someone was molested by a perpetrator wearing a certain fragrance or cologne, just a whiff of that fragrance might bring about a full-blown panic attack. Concerns about the future might be, “What if I never get over this, and these memories haunt me the rest of my life?” The length of EMDR depends on the nature of the trauma. A one-time event may only require eight sessions, while years of trauma, which is more complex, may require several months of treatment.


Does EMDR Really Work?


Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR therapy. These studies have consistently found that EMDR therapy effectively decreases or eliminates the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the majority of clients. EMDR therapy seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Following a successful EMDR therapy session, you will no longer relive the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is remembered. You will probably still remember the event, but the memory is much less upsetting.


The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies identify EMDR as a very effective treatment for PTSD, panic attacks, phobias, pain disorders, eating disorders, sexual and physical abuse, and severe body image problems. In addition, the National Registry (NREPP) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cites EMDR therapy as an evidence-based practice for the treatment of PTSD.


Where Can I Find a Therapist Who Is Trained in EMDR?


At mindCARES, a counseling center located in Ridgeland, MS, there are two Licensed Professional Counselors who are trained in EMDR and both have had huge success with many clients.


In addition to EMDR, at mindCares, we see children, teens, and adults who are suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, difficulty adjusting to a separation/divorce, and family counseling. Other types of counseling include marital therapy, difficulty with being assertive, problems maintaining healthy boundaries with family, friends, and/or co-workers, and recovery from codependency and emotional abuse.


In addition, adults can be evaluated for ADHD in a regular 50-minute session. As a community service, we offer a FREE screening for any child ages 5-17 whose parents suspect they may have problems with focus and attention (ADHD). For more information, visit our website at


Discover for yourself that treatment works!




Suzanne B. Russell, LPC, is the Clinical Director and owner of mindCares.