Updated: May 5, 2020
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is ideal for overcoming a multitude of trauma-induced problems. While it is commonly cited for treating PTSD, trauma, and other emotional distress issues, EMDR is also useful for treating common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and general psychological distress. Regardless of the reason you're seeking EMDR therapy, here's what you should know before going into your first EMDR session and how you can get the most out of it.
What To Expect When Seeing an EMDR Therapist for the First Time
The first thing you should know is that EMDR therapy is broken into eight consecutive phases. There is a plethora of information on the internet that covers them in greater detail, but here are the general stages:
1. History and Treatment Planning
6. Body Scan
These phases are commonly spread between multiple therapy sessions over a few weeks to a few months, depending on the person.
What will happen in my EMDR sessions?
In the initial phases, the EMDR therapist will ask you a series of questions to get a thorough understanding of the past events surrounding your emotional distress. In doing so, they will develop a personalized treatment plan catered to your needs. Rest assured knowing that they will explain the EMDR process in greater detail and will answer any questions you may have.
Only after having identified the past events that trigger your emotional distress will your therapist continue with the EMDR treatment phases. These involve the use of bilateral stimulation strategies guided by the therapist to bolster the emotional healing process. These psychological exercises involve your therapist asking for you to recall and visualize the distressing memories while they guide you through an internalization exercise, typically a simple eye movement exercise. Other bilateral stimulation exercises may include auditory stimulation with speakers or physical touch by tapping the therapist's hands. These psychological exercises are proven to trigger biological mechanisms that aid with processing and internalization. In effect, they are designed to "desensitize" you to the emotional sting of traumatic events in your past and "reprocess" them so that you attain healing and closure. Though you will not altogether forget the memories of the events, their emotional charge will be greatly decreased for your benefit.
Key Benefits of EMDR Therapy
EMDR classifies as being a brief-psychotherapy, meaning it has been shown to have definitive results in a short amount of time compared with long-term therapies. Because of its clearly defined 8-stage design and its solution-oriented goal, most people are given a specified amount of days in which they actually engage in active EMDR therapy. While everyone's EMDR journey differs, many people have reported positive results within their first 3 sessions.
Statistically speaking, EMDR therapy is one of the most data-proven therapies to show results available. In fact, some studies reveal that upwards of 84% of single-trauma victims were relieved of their PTSD issues in just 3 EMDR sessions. Even those that were once skeptical about EMDR's effectiveness have commented on its transformative benefits.
EMDR aids with natural processes.
Much like how our physical body reacts to bumps and bruises, our mind and emotional well-being is constantly attempting to heal itself. EMDR therapy is a means by which you can accelerate your natural emotional healing that would otherwise take much longer. Through its desensitization and reprocessing phases, your emotional wounds are transformed to a state of emotional resolution.
How to get the most out of your EMDR therapy experience
Know that it's okay to be nervous.
Nerves are natural. The EMDR process can be daunting as it can uncover painful, uncomfortable memories. However, the process doesn't start until you're ready. Prior to the EMDR exercises, your therapist will equip you with a series of relaxation and coping strategies that ensure you are able to handle the emotional turbulence and ground yourself properly. You can rely on these safety measures established with the help of your therapist to get you through every step of the way. So while the process does involve some emotional discomfort, know that you won't be jumping into a draining emotional onslaught unless you and your therapist have determined it's the right time to do so.
Be vulnerable and trust your therapist.
The success of your EMDR sessions largely rely on how willing you are to be vulnerable and open with your therapist. The sooner you are able to unearth the deeply hidden pains from your past, the quicker your therapist can guide you in healing from them. It's also important to keep in mind that you are always in complete control of the process. At no point during EMDR will you be forced to do something you don't want to. That said, trusting your therapist and opening up to them will allow the healing process to be accelerated. Always remember that the EMDR process is designed to heal your past traumatic events and that your therapist is trained to guide you through it.
Develop healthy habits.
Healthy habits such as exercising regularly, learning meditation, and practicing breathing exercises are all ways to effectively prepare yourself for EMDR. These are good tips in general that can also positively affect other areas of your life, too!
Talk to an EMDR Therapist Today.
Understand that it's okay to be nervous: most are before their first therapy session. Remember that your therapist is professional trained to help you understand the process as well as equip you with the necessary grounding strategies before ever engaging in EMDR exercises. Study after study shows that EMDR therapy is proven to be useful for a variety of mental health disorders, so you're in good company. The first step toward recovering from your PTSD, trauma, depression, or anxiety is always the hardest. But if you're like the majority of people that sought EMDR therapy, you won't regret it.