EMDR Therapy 101: An Introductory Guide to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Have you ever heard of EMDR therapy?

Many people who seek mental health help begin with something along the lines of talk therapy or CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy). While these are two great forms of therapy that work for many people, some people need more specific help. 

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) may be helpful for some of these people.

But what is EMDR therapy, and how does it help?

We’re here to talk all about it so you can make an informed decision about your mental health and treatment. Keep reading to learn all about the benefits of EMDR therapy and more.

What Is EMDR Therapy? 

EMDR therapy stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. It utilizes bilateral stimulation in order to allow patients to access memories and process them in a way that doesn’t cause distress. 

It’s based on the idea that our bad feelings and behaviors result from memories that we haven’t been able to process yet. 

While it’s a newer form of therapy, most psychiatric and psychological organizations recognize EMDR therapy as an effective option for healing people who suffer from traumatic and distressing memories that they have trouble recovering from on their own. 

When you’re in EMDR therapy, the therapist will use lights, sounds, or touch to activate bilateral stimulation. In theory, this activates information from both of the brain’s hemispheres. 

This allows patients to stay in the present moment while also working through past memories which should relieve distress and allow the patient to view the memories in a new light. 

Who Is EMDR Therapy For?

Many people can benefit from EMDR therapy. It’s a therapy style that focuses on trauma, but that doesn’t mean that it’s exclusively for people who have a PTSD diagnosis. 

That said, it’s one of the go-to treatments for people who have PTSD. Because PTSD is the result of traumatic memories that the patient hasn’t processed yet, EMDR is a promising solution. It’s a form of exposure therapy that doesn’t require the patient to put themself back in a traumatic or triggering situation. 

EMDR is also helpful for children or adults with phobias, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, and even some personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder). 

It’s common to only think of “trauma” as it relates to PTSD, but many things can be traumatic. If someone has a phobia of dentists, for example, due to a bad experience, or even a negative image from media or another person, EMDR may be able to alleviate it. 

In other words, if you find yourself “stuck” on past experiences, EMDR therapy might be a good solution. 

What Does an Average EMDR Therapy Session Look Like?

It’s helpful to know what you can expect from EMDR therapy. EMDR is a short-term therapy style that’s more efficient than other trauma-informed therapeutic methods

EMDR therapy also goes alongside talk therapy or CBT and can be combined with medication from a psychiatrist. 

Here’s what you should expect from the average EMDR session. 

The Initial Session

The first session with your therapist will be different from every subsequent session. 

During your first session, you and your new therapist will get to know each other. You’ll discuss why you’re there, what you want to overcome, and the results that you’re hoping for.

This is when you can ask your therapist questions. What kind of bilateral stimulation do they use? How long do they anticipate treatment will last? 

Come up with a list of questions that you have before you get started. 

Your therapist may make a “timeline” of memories based on your initial conversation. These memories are “targets” that you and your therapist will work on together. 

You don’t have to be specific when you’re discussing these targets, though your therapist may ask you to rate your distress level around each one from 1 to 10. 

Subsequent Sessions

When you start getting into “real” sessions, you’ll find that this operates differently from most types of therapy.

Your therapist will ask you to conjure a memory based on one of your targets. You’ll rate the target based on its distress level at that moment and try to explain a specific feeling that surrounds it. 

Then, your therapist will use bilateral stimulation while you consider that memory. After a brief period of stimulation, they’ll check in with you and ask what you’ve noticed in your body or thoughts surrounding the memory. 

This process will repeat throughout the session.

At the end of a session, your therapist may ask you if you’d like to close out the memory for the day by accessing a “safe space” in your mind or putting the memory in a “box” until next time. This is to reduce distress. 

Each session will proceed like this. When you’ve finished processing a memory, your therapist will “close” the target. This means that you’re ready to move onto the next one. 

What are the Standard EMDR Therapy Results? 

EMDR therapy has promising results. Research suggests that it’s an effective and efficient treatment that rivals trauma-informed CBT therapy for certain conditions. 

While treatment is brief, it has long-term results. It’s helpful to continue other therapeutic methods after EMDR is finished to maintain results, though it’s not necessary. 

EMDR doesn’t remove traumatic memories. It does, however, allow patients to consider them in different ways. This helps people get “un-stuck” and helps them move forward.

Is EMDR Therapy for You?

If you think that your negative feelings or actions are the result of traumatic memories, it might be helpful to consider EMDR therapy as a potential treatment method. 

It’s a great alternative to other more traditional therapy styles. Talk to a mental health professional to set up a consultation to see if EMDR is right for you. 

Are you ready to set up your appointment? At Intensive Therapy Retreats, our compassionate mental health professionals want to help you heal. 

Contact us to schedule a call today.