EMDR Treatment Step-by-Step

What is EMDR?

EMDR Therapy is a comprehensive therapy approach and is designed for overcoming stressful experiences. You can target a one-off highly traumatic event or some embedded memories of smaller traumas, which can be the basis of your depression, anxiety, relationship challenges, phobias, fears, or performance issues.

The theory behind EMDR is that many distressing life events, may not have been stored in the memory properly and are unprocessed or blocked. These traumatic memories may need some help to become processed. EMDR can help you with the unblocking.

What is different about trauma memories compared to everyday memories? 

Everyday memories are stored in the hippocampus. That part of the brain acts as a library and processes events and stores them in the right place. However, the traumatic memories are too overwhelming for the hippocampus, and the hippocampus cannot integrate the memory properly in the brain. Instead, it stores the memory in their raw, unprocessed form. The memory can, therefore, be easily triggered and can cause distress repeatedly.

What do I need to do during an EMDR session?

There are in total of eight phases in EMDR that can be roughly separated in three parts.

  1. Preparation phase: We will identify the chronology of distressing memories and establishing resources and coping modes so that you feel prepared and safe to start processing in Phase 2.
  2. Processing Phase: In this Phase, we reactivate the traumatic memory by connecting to either the image, related thoughts, feelings or sensation. While you connect to the memory, I will ask you to pay attention to the left-right eye movement for around 30 seconds. After one round of 30 seconds, I will ask: “What are you noticing now? And you can report any image, thought, sensation or feeling that is coming up. In 99% of the time, I will reply: “Let’s go with that!” and ask you to notice what you reported to me while following my fingers again from side-to-side. This process is applied till you register no other sensations are coming up anymore in your body.
  3. Installation Phase: After completing Phase 2, we will install a healthy/adaptive belief with some shorter round of eye-movements.

There is no need to control the content or direction of the material coming into your mind or body. Just allow yourself to sit back, take an observer’s role, and let the material move with you similar to watching a movie. There is no one way or “correct way” of processing. Your task is just to let whatever happens to happen.

I want to highlight that EMDR is different than talk therapy. During an EMDR session, I will encourage you to talk less and instead keep the process moving!

Why do I need to make eye-movements? 

EMDR treatment works with so-called “bilateral brain stimulation”, which means “two-sided stimulation”. Your brain has a left and a right hemisphere connected through the corpus callosum. To activate bi-lateral brain stimulation, you are asked to pay attention to the therapist’s fingers presented in the line of your vision and moving from side-to-side. Alternatively, you can pay attention to right-left sounds or bilateral tapping sensations. This side-to-side motion will enhance memory processing and helps the hippocampus to sort and store the trauma memory in their library finally properly.

What can you expect after an EMDR session?

During EMDR, you may experience various degrees of emotions, body sensations, and thoughts. Towards the end of a processing session, usually level of distress is significantly reduced. However, so-called “after processing” might happen up to 24-36 hours afterwards.

Your hippocampus might still work on sorting and processing the memory and related information into the right storage system. During that time, you might gain new insights but also some further disturbing details might come to your attention in the form of images, thoughts, feelings or sensations. This process is normal and nothing to worry.

Please observe what is coming up and write it down in your workbook. In the next EMDR session, we can reconnect with those memories and use them as a starting point for further processing.

It is normal to feel quite tired after an EMDR session. Please keep in mind that your work was equivalent to your brain running a marathon. So please rest and try to take care of yourself in the most compassionate way.

Is EMDR scientifically proven to be an effective treatment? 

There is a lot of ongoing research about the effectiveness of EMDR. One source to access the latest research publications is the EMDRIA website

To give you some key points from the research above:

  • In 2020, EMDR was announced as the most-cost effective trauma treatment in adults.
  • EMDR is a highly researched psychotherapy method for PTSD. More controlled studies have evaluated the effectiveness of EMDR in the treatment of PTSD than any other method.
  • EMDR is empirically validated and seen as highly effective in the treatment of traumas. EMDR is recognised by an abundance of international treatment guidelines such as the World Health Organisation.

Feel free to drop me a message if you have any further questions or would like to start EMDR therapy.

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