EMDR is based on an Adaptive Information Processing model which posits that, as humans, we have a natural information processing system which can be compared to our other body systems, such as digestion, in which we process inputs, “metabolize” them, and integrate those elements which are useful and adaptive for us into memory. Our memories are stored in networks that contain thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations. Learning occurs when new connections are made with material already stored in memory.
When traumatic or very negative events that overwhelm us occur, our information processing may not be successful. It can be difficult to experience the past as being in the past. It can also result in an experience of “knowing something isn’t true” but being “unable to get over the feeling that it is.” An example of this is when an individual who may have been the victimized blames themselves rather than the perpetrator, and so carries negative beliefs about themselves going forward. Traumatic memories can also be triggered unexpectedly and inappropriately by experiences that are in some way similar to the original events and can be accompanied by high levels of distress (flashbacks). EMDR is particularly effective in treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but is also very effective as a treatment for less intense forms of trauma.
EMDR works with imagery, cognition, affect, somatic sensation, and related memories to relieve emotional distress, alter negative beliefs and reduce physiological arousal.