Before we talk about what an EMDR session is, let’s talk about what it isn’t. EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is unlike traditional talk therapy where you and your therapist discuss the issues or problems you may be having. As a matter of fact, your therapist will remain silent for a good part of the session.
EMDR therapists use a specific structure that will guide you to focus on bringing attention to your emotions, your body, your thoughts, your beliefs, and your memories using visualization, mindfulness, free association, and most importantly, bilateral stimulation which is a unique element of EMDR. This is a process by which you follow a hand or light movement with your eyes, listen to alternating sounds through headphones, hold objects that will create a sensation in your hands, or receive gentle physical taps. This type of movement stimulates the brain’s information processing system allowing you to draw on a combination of new insights and understanding.
OK, so enough of the scientific talk. Here is what you will experience….
Most memories come in the form of snapshot images that usually represent the worst parts of an event. You and your therapist will identify some of these images which will then become the target image. After answering some questions about the event you wish to process, you will begin with the target image in your mind while the therapist begins the bilateral stimulation. You will either see the memory play itself out, hear your thoughts while reviewing the memory, feel deep emotions, or perhaps a combination of the three. Your therapist will be checking in with you at least once every 60 seconds while guiding you through the process. Here is the beauty of EMDR – you will begin to notice that the intensity of the memory will start to diminish until the feelings around the memory become fairly neutral. The memory is not wiped out by any means. What is actually happening is that the bilateral stimulation is allowing your intellectual mind and your emotional mind to rationalize the memory and reduce the intensity, allowing you to feel safe and in control again.
Following an EMDR session, you will feel very tired and a bit spacey. This is because although you were just sitting still for the session, your brain was working very hard. EMDR is a very effective and efficient therapy in that most clients require 2 – 5 sessions to get complete results. Some clients come to therapy specifically for EMDR whereas others use EMDR to enhance the traditional therapeutic process. It has even been shown to be effective for individuals with PTSD.
While EMDR is an exceptional therapeutic intervention, it may not be right for everybody. The best way to find out if it is right for you is to speak to a trusted mental health therapist with EMDR training.