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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Barsky

What Is EMDR and How Does It Work?

If you’ve been living with the lingering effects of past trauma, you might be desperate for relief from your symptoms. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, also known as EMDR, can help you process traumatic memories and move forward in life.

This form of psychotherapy can help you heal longstanding emotional wounds by addressing the connection between your mind and body. Your therapist will help you release tension from your past while developing skills to cope in the future.

But how does EMDR really work? What are EMDR therapy sessions like? It’s normal to have lots of questions about this therapeutic modality. Let’s break down how EMDR works and how you can benefit.

Phase 1: History Taking

During your first sessions of EMDR therapy, your therapist will explore your personal history. You’ll talk about which distressing memories you want to target in sessions and what emotions you associate with these memories.

Additionally, you’ll discuss the goals you want to work towards in therapy.

Phase 2: Distress Recovery

Next, your therapist will teach you valuable skills for recovering from emotional distress. It’s normal to feel a bit nervous about exploring your traumatic memories in therapy, especially if you’ve tried to suppress these memories for some time now.

But by understanding these recovery skills, you’ll be able to return to a state of equilibrium with guidance from your therapist if you feel stressed during therapy.

Phases 3-6: Processing Targets

Once you’ve learned some essential distress recovery skills, your therapist will work with you to target a memory that you’ve identified for reprocessing. You will bring the image to mind and reflect on any negative emotional associations that are connected with this memory.

As you engage in this reflection, your therapist will use bilateral stimulation, such as finger movements, to shift your physical focus. They will also ask you to focus on positive beliefs and evaluate the intensity of these affirmations.

Their aim is to help you release the negative emotions that you have associated with certain memories and establish positive associations instead. During this process, your therapist will occasionally have you return to a state of emotional equilibrium so that you don’t become overwhelmed.

Then, you can start honing in on a different target memory.

Phase 7: Documenting Emotions

Between your sessions, your therapist will ask you to log your emotions so that you can discuss how you’ve been feeling the next time you meet. You can write down how you feel throughout the week. It’s important to note how you respond emotionally when you’re reminded of distressing memories.

If you notice that you no longer have a strong emotional response, you’re likely making progress. You can also identify moments when you had to engage in distress recovery skills.

If you’re able to recenter yourself, this is also a sign that you’re benefitting from therapy.

Phase 8: Examining Progress

In future sessions, you and your therapist will go over your progress so far and explore how you’ve been taking steps to your goals. Some people will require more sessions in EMDR therapy, while others notice they make substantial progress very quickly.

People who participate in EMDR therapy often make progress on a faster timeline than people who pursue traditional talk therapy. However, the timeline can vary based on the individual.

You can talk to your therapist about how you can develop healthy responses to future events, as well as continue working on coping mechanisms for issues you’re currently dealing with.

Are you struggling to recover from trauma? Working with a therapist who is trained in EMDR can help. Reach out to me to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.

For more information, click the link to learn about trauma counseling.


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