EMDR & Bilateral Stimulation

(It’s not just for trauma!)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has been best known for decades as an evidence based therapeutic intervention for treating trauma. In my previous post, Uncovering the Mysteries of EMDR, I explained the function and process of EMDR as it is used to treat traumatic memories/incidents. Since EMDR isolates and targets maladaptive neural networks, that process can be applied to other diagnosis, such as phobias/anxieties, grief and addictions. These maladaptive neural networks present as negative core beliefs, which carry over and negatively impact other areas of our lives.


Someone struggling with the loss of a loved one may develop the negative core belief, “I should have done something,” “I’m powerless,” or “I’m abandoned.” These are maladaptive thoughts that can carry over into relationships or work. If a person views their world through the lens that they have no power or control, they may not speak up for themselves at work, which can snowball into other problems. EMDR/Bilateral Stimulation can be used to desensitize that core belief, along with the strong emotions associated with it, and replace it with one that is more adaptive. As an example, a person who feels they “should have done something,” may be released from that and realize they did what they could, or maybe they can recognize what they can cannot control. These shifts in thought can enable individuals to grieve and process their loss in healthy ways.


Someone with social anxiety may have the negative core belief, “I’m invisible” or “I’m not good enough.” In this example, an EMDR therapist can desensitize those maladaptive thoughts and reduce the unwanted emotions associated with those thoughts. Lastly, the therapist can help the client think of the situation adaptively and imagine themselves in future worst-case scenarios, feeling differently, while strengthening those positive neural networks with bilateral stimulation. Once treatment is complete, the client will no longer feel that anxiety in social situations.


Someone who struggles with addiction may possess the core belief, “it’s not safe to feel,” or “I’m defective.” These thoughts would be treated in the same manner as my previous examples. What makes EMDR a stand-out treatment for addiction, is the ability to desensitize triggers that lead to using and reduce the urges. EMDR can also be used to strengthen adaptive, alternative behaviors and coping skills.

If you are interested in learning more about EMDR or would like to schedule an appointment, reach out through the contact page or call our office.

This article was written by Tonya Nowlin, MA, LPC. To learn more about Tonya please visit her bio.