What to Expect During EMDR Therapy

What to expect during EMDR Therapy

EMDR is an 8-phase treatment but for ease of explanation; the phases are consolidated into three phrases: Hope, Healing, and Growth.

Each phase will be described as what you might expect during your course of treatment but keeping in mind that this is a guideline and may slightly differ depending based on individual needs of each client.

How long does EMDR therapy Take?

The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the traumatic experiences that are causing problems and to include new ones that are needed for full health. EMDR therapy is designed for 90-minute sessions -however due to limitations of insurance reimbursements, most therapists provide EMDR in 50-minute sessions -which can impact the overall time spent in therapy. Again, the amount of sessions to complete EMDR therapy can vary from 6-24 sessions and longer for more complex issues.

Although EMDR therapy may produce results more rapidly than other forms of therapy, speed is not the goal of therapy. It is important to remember that every client will have different needs.

Phase 1 – Hope

History Taking and Treatment Planning

  • Typically takes 1-2 sessions and can continue throughout therapy.
  • Determine the specific issue/problem that has brought the client to therapy and the symptoms from that problem.
  • The therapist will also determine if there are any relevant historical events that may be connected to the presenting issues.
  • Identify skills or behaviors that will be needed for the future well-being
  • The therapist will take the above information and create a treatment plan.

Preparation

  • Typically takes 1-4 sessions and can continue throughout therapy as needed.
  • Establish a relationship of trust
  • Explain the theory of EMDR therapy and how it is done
  • Provide psycho-education on diagnosis, attachment, stress responses, and any other relevant information needed. This part is important because it provides and understanding of your presenting issues and the source of them.
  • Teach a variety relaxation and stabilization skills needed to handle any emotional disturbance that arrises during session and in between sessions.
  • Assess EMDR readiness to move to the next phase.

Phase 2 – Healing  

Once it has been determined that you are sufficiently prepared and resourced, you will transition to the middle phase of treatment -reprocessing and desensitization of a target; and installation and integration of positive experiences/beliefs.  

In short, in this phase we will turn toward the discomfort of the traumatic event, memory, or issue in a slow modulated manner by focusing on small, manageable amounts of discomfort and returning a resource as needed.  

Assessment, Desensitization (reprocessing), Installation of a Target

  • We will begin the session(s) with the present target we agreed to work on.
  • You will then be asked to identify an image, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations related to that image and rank the level of disturbance.
  • We will explore if there is a past or earlier event that is connected which will be the “touchstone” target.
  • We will then begin desensitization through the use of bilateral stimulation (BLS) for increments of 30-120 seconds. BLS can be in the form of alternating eye movements, audible sounds, or tactile.
  • At the end of each set, we will pause the BLS and you will be asked to briefly share what you noticed during the BLS such as thoughts, images, emotions and body sensations.
  • BLS will continue until the identified target has been fully reprocessed and desensitized and is no longer distressing.
  • Often times due to time restraints in sessions, we may not be able to complete the full processing of the target so we will close the session through grounding and containment activities.  
  • Once the target is no longer distressing, I will ask you to bring the original target event to mind and see if any residual tension is noticed in the body that is related to the event. If so, these physical sensations are then targeted for reprocessing.
  • The EMDR session is not considered successful until you can bring up the target without feeling any body tension.
  • If there is no body tension, we will then strengthen the positive belief through BLS and then close the session.
  • After the completion of each target, we will re-evaluate the
  • We will repeat the above for each past target, then move to present triggers, and then create a future template
  • The target is not considered complete until all three prongs have been processed. The amount of time expected to spent on a target for each prong will vary but overall, we start with 6-8 sessions.

Phase 3 – Growth

Future planning

This phase of treatment is where we will re-evaluate the global progress and growth you have made with and identify the next course of action.  Typically it will include the re-assessment of symptoms and impact on current functioning, re-assess coping skills, and begin to plan for other future “bumps in the road” that may not have been addressed earlier.

Are you ready?

Regardless if you are waiting to begin your first EMDR therapy session, or still undecided, as your EMDR Certified therapist, I will walk you through each step and answer any questions you have.

If you have questions, or if you’re ready to begin, let’s get started.

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