Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be a highly effective therapy for trauma, PTSD, and many other types of concerns. But is it right for you? What can you expect? Here are some common questions people have about EMDR. If you are interested in learning more or think this might be a good fit for you, book with an EMDR Therapist at Island Clinical Counselling.
Who can benefit from EMDR?
EMDR can help people who have not fully healed or recovered from an upsetting event or experience. This can include symptoms such as feeling stuck, stress or tension, anxiety, depression, problems with sleep, exhaustion or fatigue. Or it can help more intense symptoms like flashbacks, unsettling dreams and nightmares, obsessions and compulsions, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, eating disorders, and suicidal tendencies.
However, EMDR may not be for everyone. During preparation and assessment, your therapist will help you determine if EMDR is right for you. For some people, for example those actively using substances or those who experience high degrees of dissociation, your therapist may recommend working on those problems before commencing EMDR.
What happens during EMDR processing?
During the preparation and assessment phases, your therapist will work with you to ensure you feel safe, know exactly what to expect, and that you have the resources (coping strategies) to safely process the memories identified in session. Depending on what you and your therapist find most effective and comfortable for you, processing will involve you focusing on a “target” image while the therapist begins bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation involves eye movements, sounds, or taps to stimulate the neurons, that are guided by the therapist and done in short sets, until the therapist determines that processing for that memory is complete. At the end of every processing session, your therapist will help lower your distress by offering a resource. Once all memories have been processed, your therapist will help guide you through a process to replace underlying negative beliefs with your previously chosen positive belief.
EMDR is a passive process. Whatever happens, happens, and that is okay. It may or may not seem related to you logically, but your brain creates connections. Whatever you experience, just notice it as if you are watching a train go by. You may experience feelings, thoughts, or body sensations, or you might not experience anything at all. That is okay. There are no right or wrong answers.
What if things get too intense or I get overwhelmed?
You are in control. You and your therapist will decide on a “stop” signal during the preparation and assessment phases. It can be normal to experience intense emotions or sensations, but if it is overwhelming, then you can stop the process at any time by using that agreed signal.
How long does each EMDR session last?
Sessions can be 50 or 80 minutes in length.
Can EMDR be done virtually or just in person?
For many people, EMDR can be equally effective virtually (online) or in-person. However, if you find it more difficult to maintain focus in virtual settings, in-person may be better for you. During preparation and assessment, you and your therapist will decide what will be most effective for you.
How frequently is EMDR recommended?
Dr. Shapiro recommends clients attend weekly; however, this is something that you and your therapist can discuss to decide what is best for you.
How many sessions will EMDR take?
Therapy duration depends on your therapy goals and your history. A single traumatic event may require only three hours in the processing phases, whereas those who have experienced multiple traumas may require six to 12 therapy hours (approximately). It will also depend on each client’s ability to use resources (coping strategies) to self-sooth when distressed.
Will EMDR make me forget my trauma or create false memories?
EMDR cannot erase or add to your memories. It only accesses what already exists in your memories. As you do EMDR processing, you may think of your traumas less often, and when you do remember them, your reactions, emotions, and thoughts should be less intense and distressing.
Will EMDR work if I don’t remember much about my trauma?
Yes. Sometimes traumatic memories are stored in the body and brain outside of our conscious awareness and sometimes people struggle to use words to describe their traumas. The EMDR process directly accesses where those memories are stored, making it possible to fully reprocess them.
Will EMDR impact my ability to testify in court?
Because EMDR reduces the intensity of your reactions, emotions, and thoughts, your lawyer may recommend that you do not engage in the processing phases of EMDR until after you testify. During preparation and assessment, your therapist will discuss this and other types of life events with you so that you can decide if the timing is right for you.
Is EMDR dangerous? Will my symptoms get worse?
EMDR is safe and evidence-based. In the preparation and assessment phases, your therapist will help you develop the resources to better tolerate the distress and other symptoms you are experiencing. The processing phases can be distressing or uncomfortable in the moment, but this distress will not linger and if things become too distressing, you can always use the stop signal prearranged with your therapist. You may feel some side effects after EMDR therapy such as fatigue, feeling more emotional, or changes in your dreams. These are typical responses. It is important to utilize your resources, get lots of rest, and do lots of self-care after EMDR.
How do I choose an EMDR Therapist?
It is important to choose an EMDR Therapist, which is someone who has completed EMDR Basic Training through an EMDRIA-approved trainer. As with any type of therapy, the therapeutic relationship is also very important. In part, this is because trust and honesty between you and your therapist help your therapist keep you stay safe throughout EMDR therapy.
Written by Catherine Moore
Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press.
Kennard, D. (2019). S.A.F.E. approach to EMDR therapy. Safety and attachment focused EMDR. Personal Transformation Institute.