EMDR: What You Need to Know
BY KALI MUNRO, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2013
EMDR is a powerful and effective therapeutic technique that can help you to process traumatic or emotional experiences thoroughly and quickly – helping you to feel better faster than with many other therapeutic techniques.
WHO BENEFITS FROM IT?
EMDR is helpful for many problems.
ANXIETY • TRAUMA • PTSD • GRIEF • BREAK UPS • ADDICTIONS • PANIC ATTACKS
EMDR is helpful whenever you feel a strong emotional charge or block in your life. Something is restricting you or is interfering in your life and nothing seems to work.
EMDR is also very effective when you’ve done a lot of work on yourself, with or without a therapist, and you still feel stuck. EMDR can be very helpful in moving that along for you.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
EMDR involves bilateral stimulation of the brain by using alternating eye movements, tones, or tapping. This activates the brain’s natural healing process by stimulating the whole brain (cognitive, emotional, intuitive, creative, etc.) to come to bear on what ever is bothering you.
Your EMDR therapist will develop your treatment sessions with you, and help you to focus on what is most relevant to your therapy. This treatment planning will help you to process more effectively and that helps you to let go of what ever is bothering you.
HOW IS IT DONE?
The EMDR therapist, after assessing the complexity of what is bothering you, will develop a plan for how to approach your problem. This will include identifying an image and/or memory to work with; a negative belief that you have about yourself; your level of distress; and how you experience your distress in your body. You will start by focusing on that as you begin the bilateral stimulation (by listening to alternating tones, feeling alternating taps, or starting eye movements.) Your therapist will periodically ask you to stop, take a break, and to describe what you were aware of, after which you will continue again with the bilateral stimulation.
HOW MANY SESSIONS DO I NEED?
This varies greatly from person to person, but, generally speaking, the more severe the trauma, for example if you were sexually abused at a very young age, the longer the treatment will be. But, say, you have low or medium level anxiety, non-trauma related, when you speak in front of work peers. That might only need a handful of sessions. If you were in a car accident as an adult, that could involve a few months of treatments. The good news is once EMDR has begun, your brain is activated and continues to work for you throughout the week to come. Many people experience some changes, for example even a small reduction in anxiety or depression, after one or two sessions.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT?
EMDR sessions can vary greatly. For some people, it is a very cognitive experience. They come to think differently about the problem. For others, it can be very emotional. And for others, it may not seem all that different from regular therapy sessions.
Generally speaking, EMDR activates what is bothering you, so this can mean that initially you feel more deeply. You may feel more vulnerable or very tired after your first session. You may find yourself thinking about the problem more or recalling related events. This is good. It means that your brain is continuing to process. It helps to be prepared for this possibility.
Usually, after the first one or two sessions, people find an equilibrium with the processing. And, some people don’t notice very much at all between sessions other than they are feeling better.
I always recommend starting EMDR when you have some space in your life to rest if needed especially after the first session and that coming week.
After a number of treatments, people describe feeling calmer, peaceful, happier, able to let go of what was bothering them, able to do things they couldn’t do before, and more confident.