EMDR is an evidence-based psychotherapy that has been shown to reduce the intensity of trauma memories and the accompanying negative emotions. It has also been found to improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions that are linked to traumatic experiences. EMDR was developed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but it has since been used by many people with other psychological problems and even physical ailments like chronic pain or an addiction. This therapy has been endorsed by major health and psychology organizations, including the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association.

During your first session, your therapist will gather information about you and your past experiences to determine whether or not EMDR is an appropriate treatment for you. They may ask about upsetting or disturbing thoughts and memories, as well as what kind of impact they’ve had on your life. Your therapist will also teach you some self-care techniques so that you can manage any strong emotions that may arise during or between sessions.

In the following sessions, your therapist will help you identify a specific memory that you want to reprocess. Then, they’ll guide you through the EMDR process. This will include the desensitization phase, where you’ll focus on your target image and follow your therapist’s finger with your eyes as it moves back and forth from left to right (or a similar stimuli).

While this is happening, your therapist will also ask you to note any feelings, images, associations or bodily sensations that emerge. The idea is to process the memory so that it’s no longer as disturbing or overpowering, and to replace any negative beliefs associated with it with more positive ones.

Once you’ve gone through the desensitization phase, your therapist will move on to the installation phase. During this part of the session, you’ll focus on positive beliefs or thoughts while going through bilateral stimulation (which can be eye movements, tapping or auditory cues). You’ll then be asked to identify any places in your body that feel physically “sticky” when you think about the target image.

As you do this, your therapist will continue to monitor the intensity of your responses and check that you’re able to handle any emotional challenges that come up during or between sessions. Then, they’ll repeat the desensitization and installation phases until they’re satisfied that you’ve reprocessed the memory and that it’s no longer upsetting or distressing to recall.

Some experts believe that the eye movements involved in EMDR stimulate the brain’s natural investigatory reflex, which helps to control fear and encourage exploration. Others believe that the process reactivates parts of your brain that were shut down as a coping mechanism during the traumatic event, allowing you to view the experience in a more positive light.

Whatever the mechanism, EMDR works—and it usually works very quickly. Research shows that it can be as effective as certain medications in treating PTSD. But it’s important to keep in mind that EMDR only works for disorders linked to traumatic events.