Using EMDR for OCD

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If you live with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), you know how challenging it can make even the simplest of tasks. The intrusive thoughts and behaviors cause problems related to personal relationships, career, and daily living. Did you know that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can help treat people with OCD? This non-invasive therapy is used to help people process their emotions and experiences in a new way. Montare Behavioral Health of Tucson offers EMDR for OCD as part of our overall program to treat mental health disorders. Our therapists train extensively so they can guide you through the EMDR therapy sessions. For many, this provides a leg up on healing their OCD they have not found before.

Is EMDR an Effective Treatment for OCD?

Someone who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experiences two main sets of symptoms. They have obsessive thoughts that happen repetitively and compulsive behaviors they feel compelled to engage in over and over. Neither symptom can be controlled by sheer willpower but instead requires treatment that helps minimize them. 

Treatment for someone with OCD often includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Both help people face the situations and emotions that trigger their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. In recent years, many therapists have begun to use EMDR for OCD. EMDR therapy originally began being used for people who suffer from trauma-based mental illnesses like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, recent studies have shown it can be a powerful additional option for treating the symptoms of OCD. 

A study published in 2017 studied the use of EMDR and CBT as treatments for people with OCD. The study showed there was no significant difference in results obtained by those who used one method of treatment vs. the other. Because of this comparable outcome, many facilities choose to include EMDR as an option for treating OCD. 

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR is provided by a therapist who has trained to perform this type of therapy. It was developed in 1987 to treat PTSD and its structure was guided by the Adaptive Information Processing model. EMDR for OCD is done in the same manner used when treating PTSD and other mental health disorders. Sessions take place once or twice per week and extend over 12 to 16 sessions in total. EMDR is done during eight phases that are completed in the following order:

  • History Taking and Treatment Planning
  • Preparation
  • Assessment
  • Desensitization
  • Installation
  • Body scan
  • Closure
  • Reevaluation


When a person first arrives for EMDR treatment, the therapist will explain each phase and what to expect. The sessions take place in a comfortable environment, and the therapy can be repeated if necessary.

How Exactly Does EMDR Treat OCD?

During the actual EMDR-centered sessions, the therapist will use lights or other items and instruct the person to move their eyes in specific ways. Some therapists may use hand sessions or tapping motions to direct the individual. While engaging in these exercises, the person discusses any stress or traumatic events they underwent in the past or currently experience. EMDR therapy addresses the fact that many people do not process their traumatic events when or after they happen. Instead, they develop PTSD. Some also develop OCD or they may have OCD independent of a specific type of traumatic event. 

In either case, a person with OCD often has triggers that cause them to have thoughts and behaviors specific to how they experience their illness. Their brain sometimes fails to distinguish between past and present events or has no capability of stopping the triggers from causing negative actions. Discussing stressors during EMDR helps the brain reprocess and reanalyze how they happened. In turn, this reduces the impact they have on triggering symptoms of OCD. Because these triggers are being discussed in the safety of a therapist’s office, the person’s nervous system learns to react differently to them. Instead of entering a “fight or flight” mode or slipping helplessly into OCD thoughts and behaviors, the person gains a sense of control. 

While there is no cure for OCD, using EMDR for OCD can help reduce the number of times a person experiences symptoms and make them less severe. 

Contact Montare Tucson About Treating OCD With EMDR

Do you have OCD and have not found a treatment plan that truly minimizes your symptoms and allows you to feel more in control? Sadly, many people do not know about modern options for therapy to treat this challenging mental illness. Montare Behavioral Health of Tucson offers EMDR for OCD to give people an effective option for easing their symptoms. Our staff is trained to perform EMDR and helps guide people through the series of sessions while making them comfortable. Used in combination with other types of therapy, EMDR can be the missing piece of the puzzle to help people who struggle with OCD.

Visit our admissions page now to find out more about using EMDR to help treat your OCD. Our friendly admissions staff can give you more details about the therapy and provide a free insurance check.