What can I expect when I meet my EMDR therapist?
When you first meet with your EMDR therapist, they will spend time getting to know your history. This generally includes the kind of distress and difficulties you are experiencing, any physical problems, and the support you have, and they will decide whether they feel EMDR is suitable for you. You are free to ask your therapist questions and express any concerns you may have.
What are EMDR sessions like?
In your sessions, your therapist will spend some time doing some relaxation exercises with you, which could include ‘safe place’ exercises, guided visualisation, deep muscle relaxation, breathing retraining, etc.
Once you and your therapist feel that you are sufficiently prepared, you will be asked to choose an image that represents the distressing event. You will then be asked to think about negative and positive thoughts, your feelings, the amount of distress you feel and where you feel it in your body.
Your therapist will then begin the alternating eye movements, sounds or taps while you bring the image, thoughts and body sensations to mind. After each set of eye movements, your therapist will ask you what you became aware of or what you noticed. There are no right or wrong answers, you just report whatever you are experiencing as you let you brain and body process the memory. During the eye movements you may experience the distressing event quite intensely to start with, but this distress usually reduces as the memory is processed with EMDR.
Your therapist will continue with the eye movements until your distress is reduced as much as possible. Your therapist will then ask you to think about your positive thoughts and also check whether there is any part of your body where you still feel distress. Before the end of each session, your therapist will give you time to feel calm again and answer any questions you may have about the experience, along with advice on how best to look after yourself between sessions.
Will my therapist use any equipment?
Possibly. Your EMDR therapist doesn’t have to use any equipment – they can create the necessary eye movements by moving their fingers back and forth across your visual field. However, many therapists prefer to create the eye movements by using a ‘light bar’, where you watch a light that moves back and forth.
Other therapists use auditory bilateral stimulation, where they click their fingers alternately in your left and right ears. They might choose to use headphones for the clicks (or other sounds).
Therapists can also use tactile bilateral stimulation, where they alternately tap your left and right hands. To create a similar effect, some therapists use small vibrating items that you can hold in your hands.
How will I feel after my EMDR session?
EMDR therapy generates a certain amount of ‘momentum’ to your thinking and conscious awareness. In other words, the treatment does not just stop immediately after your session. During your eye movement session a lot of memories may come to mind, and people find that after the session they may think about these memories.
If these memories are distressing, then for a day or two you may still feel distressed. During this time it is recommended that you take care of yourself and use your relaxation techniques to soothe yourself. It is recommended that you do not do anything too stressful straight after your EMDR session, such as take an exam or have a very long car journey.
Some people report that after the session they seem to recall more aspects of the events that they hadn’t thought about for a while. Some report that they dream more. Everybody is different, so keep a note of your experiences and discuss them with your therapist. It is important to remember that these are all normal reactions.
People report feeling a sense of relief as EMDR starts to reduce their distress. At the end of EMDR therapy, many people report feeling no distress at all when recalling the traumatic event.
How do I know if my EMDR therapist is properly qualified?
Any psychotherapy puts you in a vulnerable position, so you should always seek out a trustworthy therapist. EMDR therapists who have gone through more extensive training are accredited with the EMDR Association. Accredited therapists have demonstrated their experience and competence under the supervision of a professional EMDR consultant.
Find an accredited EMDR therapist here. [link to ‘find a therapist’]
Is EMDR a form of hypnotism?
EMDR is not a form of hypnotism. Even though you are moving your eyes during EMDR you will remain conscious, awake and in control at all times. EMDR therapy cannot be done against your will.
Is EMDR new?
EMDR therapy is about 30 years old. It was developed by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro, in the 1980s. As a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, she published the first research data to support EMDR’s benefits in 1989. Many people haven’t heard of EMDR because it is not yet as commonplace as other therapies like CBT or counselling.