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Do you wonder what an EMDR session looks like?

What is EMDR? (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

EMDR is an approach that focuses on past negative experiences that are emotionally charged and driven. These past negative experiences often influence our present thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. Therefore, EMDR focuses on present concerns that are linked to the past.

Processing during EMDR can help you break down barriers and emotional walls that are inhibiting you from living the life you want, a life that is emotionally healthy.

EMDR utilizes rapid sets of eye movements, just like what your eyes do during REM sleep, to help you re-process traumatic and disturbing experiences and images. When the body alternates between regular sleep and REM sleep, this pattern allows you to process things that are difficult for you.

This pattern is what we are harnessing and using in EMDR. By alternating between sets of eye movements and short statements about what you are noticing in your mind, the process helps bring past memories to a more adaptive present perspective.

EMDR therapy uses a structured eight-phase approach that includes:

  1. Phase 1: History-taking.
  2. Phase 2: Preparing the client.
  3. Phase 3: Assessing the target memory.
  4. Phases 4-Desensitization.
  5. Phase 5: Installation.
  6. Phase 6: Body Scan.
  7. Phase 7: Closure.
  8. Phase 8: Reevaluation.

The map of the EMDR eight phases acts as a guide to the goal of EMDR therapy: to “facilitate accelerated information processing” (Shapiro, 2018, p. 83)

It is important that you and your therapist spend enough time discussing history and developing a treatment plan with a focus on traumatic events. This is the time where your therapist will begin moving to the preparation phase and to assess internal and external resources.

EMDR Treatment Planning

  • The client agrees to treatment to express present concerns.
  • A treatment plan will be developed that reflects the goals you want to accomplish during your time in therapy.
  • Identifying present triggers are a significant component, as well as identifying internal resources for each trigger.
  • Finally, identify a target memory for the first reprocessing session (Phase four).

How does an EMDR session looks like?

Remember that EMDR is a therapy approach, so everything that goes in all sessions is part of EMDR treatment modality (From the position of your chair to the breath work to even the sip of water that your therapist will request you to have). After completing Phase one through three and identifying the target memory, the Patient will experience the following components:

  • You will be asked a set of questions to assess and activate the negative experience you would like to work on by asking about “the negative cognition connected to that memory” and the desired “positive cognition” of that memory.
  • The therapist will use sets of rapid eye movement, or other forms of bilateral stimulation (decided upon earlier with the client during preparation phase).
  • The fourth Phase of EMDR, desensitization, is where the therapist conducts the session by using bilateral stimulation (BLS) such as side to side eye movements, sounds or taps while focusing on the traumatic event, new thoughts, sensations, and imagines. You may experience new feelings or new memories but “Go with that”.
  • The therapist will continue to do this to allow the mind to process the memory, asking the client to re-scale the intensity of their inner experience of the memory from 1-10 as they go along. When conducted correctly EMDR most often significantly reduces the intensity of your unpleasant memory by assessing physical discomfort, as well as the validity of the negative cognition.
  • Desensitization can take a few therapy session, for some complex trauma individual work with the therapist for 4-5 sessions depending of the level of internal and external resources that you would have developed during previous sessions (preparation phase).
  • During phase four, your therapist will ask you to describe how you feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically. You might have difficulty describing everything you feel but do your best- Do not be afraid to say what comes to your mind.

Feel tense after the session

Think as if your brain has run a marathon- Please listen to your body and Go with that!!!

  • EMDR therapy is not for the faint of heart. Recalling traumatic or distressing memories can leave you feeling tense long after the session ends. This is normal .. just go with that!!
  • This is why phase two (preparation) is a crucial component of EMDR therapy because new sensations or memories can come up, but as long as you have integrated internal resources into your life, the pain will lessen and become more tolerable.
  • Taking care of yourself is a crucial component, your therapist will recommend you to clear your calendar for the day, drink plenty of water, take a nap and use 2-3 internal resources for the following days until next session. 

Putting it into Practice

Once the negative experiences have been transitioned into a less unpleasant memory, you and your therapist will work together to incorporate these new insights into your daily life.

How many sessions do I need in order to feel better?

Many of my patients asked the same question…. for how long???.

  • Treatment length varies depending on the nature, severity, and complexity of problems.
  • More often, individuals will incorporate other treatment modalities such as mindfulness work, polyvagal theory approach, and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)… this is why phase two (preparation) is a crucial component!!
  • As long as you are incorporating the skills learned between phases one and three in your daily life. You will see a change in your life!!
  • I will run the marathon with you as long as you run it with me.

If you seek services, please know that you are not alone and give us. We are here to support you and guide you during your healing journey, call us at 847-440-2281.

Do you wonder what an EMDR session looks like? What is EMDR?

Vanessa Hernandez LSW, CADC, EMDR trained clinician

The Center for Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry