While research is actively taking place, the precise mechanism by which EMDR works to resolve traumatic stress is unclear, in part because we are just beginning to understand exactly how the brain processes intense memories and emotions. However, several neuropsychologists believe EMDR enables the person undergoing treatment to rapidly access traumatic memories and process them emotionally and cognitively, which facilitates their resolution.
“We believe that EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep — that allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.”
Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School
By accessing these memories in the context of a safe environment, the hypothesis is that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and the development of cognitive insights about the memories.
“EMDR quickly opens new windows on reality, allowing people to see solutions within themselves that they never knew were there. And it’s a therapy where the client is very much in charge, which can be particularly meaningful when people are recovering from having their power taken away by abuse and violation.”
Laura S. Brown, Ph.D.