Six Things You Should Know Before You Start EMDR Trauma Therapy
#1 You don’t start processing trauma right away:
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an eight-phase process in which a counselor and a client work together to desensitize traumatic memories. Initially, clinicians begin by taking a client’s history during the first session. The second phase in the process is dedicated to treatment planning and developing goals. The third phase in the treatment is dedicated to establishing relaxation and visualization practices which will be used in the trauma processing. Only after all those phases are complete, do we begin to start to process and desensitize some of the traumatic events. So it’s really good to know you don’t start with the tough stuff first.
#2 EMDR doesn’t erase your traumatic memories:
EMDR doesn’t erase anybody’s traumatic memories. We do use bilateral stimulation to transform the memory. The bilateral stimulation can look like, either moving two fingers back and forth and having the client track them, using headphones to play tones alternating between the left and right, or using handheld paddles to alternate pulses between the left and the right hand. There are a variety of different ways the clinicians might use bilateral stimulation.
By doing the bilateral stimulation and then bringing up the memory in your mind, we begin to detach the emotions, the image of the worst part of the traumatic event and even the body sensations surrounding the memory. This process eventually desensitizes the event and the memory of the event becomes fuzzy or very, very distant and not so emotionally charged. It’s not that you forget the memory, but it doesn’t trigger you as much because the emotions are separated from the memory itself.
#3 EMDR is not for everybody.
The third thing to know is that EMDR is not for everybody. Unfortunately, it’s not going to work for everybody. So if you have a tendency for high disassociation, that’s something to really let your clinician know. Clinicians do an assessment before you start EMDR processing so we kind of get an idea whether disassociation is a tendency you may have. That may prevent you from doing EMDR. Also, if you have a seizure disorder or a traumatic brain injury, there certainly will be issues with doing EMDR and bilateral stimulation.
#4 The client feels calm after leaving an EMDR session.
The next thing to know about EMDR is that we establish a safety plan and exercises through visualization and breathing prior to processing trauma. You don’t have to bring it up the traumatic memory and then at the end of session walk out with that trauma reignited. We actually do a lot of stabilization and grounding exercises before we even process the first traumatic incident and then we go back to those safety exercises, those grounding and visualization exercises, at the end of every session. So you leave every session feeling very, calm and collected.
#5 The client isn’t forced to talk about the trauma extensively.
Another thing to know about EMDR is that we’re not talking about the trauma extensively. In talk therapy, oftentimes clients have reported that just by talking about the trauma they feel like they’re retraumatized. With EMDR we use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and other traditional talk therapy techniques but we are processing the insight that the client gains after doing a round of bilateral stimulation.
At the beginning of the session the clinician will ask clients to do is give them an image of the worst portion of the trauma. The client can do that within maybe a couple of sentences (that’s all). This allows the client to recall the traumatic event they want to process during the session. From there the clinician begins the bilateral stimulation. After 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes of bilateral stimulation, however long we decide the rounds should be, then the client shares what insight they have gained. They may have thought of a new memory. They may think new thoughts have new insight. They may have a different experience in emotions or a different body sensation. All of those are possibilities. The clinician will process those new discoveries with the client and then return to the bilateral stimulation again. So it’s a very good thing to know that you are processing the trauma without having to talk it out over and over again.
#6 The experts and the research support the use of EMDR for trauma therapy.
It is important to know that there is a wealth of research out there behind EMDR in a variety of different areas. So whether it’s mood disorders, substance abuse or compulsive behavior like eating disorders or any type of phobia, there’s a variety of different ways that EMDR can help. It can even be used for things like test-taking and performance enhancement in different sports. So there are a variety of ways to use this type of intervention. It’s highly effective, the research is behind it, and the experts in the field say that EMDR is the way to go about processing trauma for people who are struggling with PTSD symptoms.