What It’s Like To Undergo EMDR Therapy

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is gaining recognition quickly in the world of psychotherapy. You may have heard of this therapy option from your local news station, mental health journal, or even in popular media such as Grey’s Anatomy’s “Breathe Again” episode, where a doctor undergoes EMDR to come to terms with a traumatic event. 

However, T.V. and news outlets do not give the full scope of what undergoing EMDR therapy is like. If you’ve been curious about this therapy method, here’s what you should know: 

What Is EMDR Therapy Like? 

EMDR therapy is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other forms of talk therapy, but it does have some key differences. During an EMDR session, you’ll be asked to recall and work through traumatic memories while engaging in some form of external stimuli, usually eye movement.  

Your therapist will begin by talking through the memory or memories you’re trying to reprocess to get an understanding of the trauma. They will want to pinpoint an area to focus on during your EMDR session, and it helps to have a bit of background on the reason for your visit. For example, if you’re trying to work through traumatic childhood events or the trauma after the end of a relationship, your therapist will want to know what is troubling you about those memories and why you may feel emotionally blocked because of them. 

Once you and your therapist have discussed the traumatic event or negative emotion, they will begin the EMDR treatment by stimulating the brain using eye movements, finder tapping, or audio tones and sound. It is theorized that this stimulates the parts of the brain active during REM sleep, which is where many memories and thoughts are processed subconsciously. Multi-tasking while engaging in these physical stimuli can also help you bring traumatic memories into working memory and challenge them in a less traumatic way than during mere recollection. 

The therapist will guide you through different questions about the traumatic event or memory during this time. He or she may also ask you to remember different incidences related to the trauma. During this phase, you may feel physical signs of anxiety, such as pain or tightening of the chest or stomach. However, you may also feel physical relief as the memory is reprocessed. 

Finally, the therapist will try to challenge the negative thoughts or memories with more positive self-beliefs. This is similar to CBT therapy, where negative beliefs and thought patterns brought up in therapy are challenged through reasoning and therapeutic activities. However, the activation of the brain through visual, auditory, or tactile stimulation can help these positive self-beliefs take effect much sooner. 

How Long Do I Undergo EMDR? 

Sessions typically take 90 minutes.. However, in contrast to CBT therapy which can take months or years to take effect, EMDR has shown to provide relief to anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and even phobias after three to 12 sessions on average. Of course, EMDR is different for everyone, and it may take a shorter or longer period of time for you to feel the full range of benefits. 

Will It Help Me With My Mental Disorder? 

EMDR was first studied for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and is primarily used for this condition. However, EMDR has been studied to provide relief for those suffering from anxiety, depression, panic disorder, low self-esteem, and even phobias. EMDR is not a one-size-fits-all therapy, but it may be beneficial if you suffer from a mental disorder due to a traumatic past. 

To learn more about EMDR and find out if it’s right for you, contact the Reboot offices today.