Considering EMDR - What does it involve?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique that has proved very effective with a variety of different issues. It is particularly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or for those that have experienced a particularly traumatic event. However, it can also be effective with anxiety, phobias, grief and complex trauma including abuse.


The EMDR process

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. It is structured into eight phases where the therapist helps the individual process the traumatic memory or distressing experience.

1. History taking and treatment plan

Your therapist will explore with you your history, your medical history and the trauma that you have experienced. They will ask you about what triggers you have, what changes you want to make, and what your goals are for therapy.

2. Preparation

Your therapist will explain the treatment plan they have developed for you and will start by teaching you some calming techniques, such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises. The purpose of this is to help you manage your anxiety and keep you calm throughout this process.

3. Assessment

Your therapist will ask you to identify the target memory that triggers your emotional response. They will ask you to consider:

  • What caused your trauma?
  • What is the most consistent image associated with the memory?
  • How is the traumatic incident relevant to the present?

The therapist can introduce a positive belief here to help deal with the negative emotions triggered by the trauma, for instance, “You are safe now.”

4. Desensitisation

While thinking about the distressing memory you will undergo bilateral stimulation, which occurs in a rhythmic left-right pattern. This could be lights moving from side to side, or your eyes moving side to side following someone’s hand movement for instance.

5. Installation

Your therapist will then talk to you about installing positive beliefs and emotions into your thought process to replace negative thoughts and beliefs.

6. Body scan

Your therapist will then ask you to revisit the traumatic event and reevaluate it. This will allow you to see how your body responds to the reprocessed memories. If you are still experiencing any reaction, the EMDR will continue.

7. Closure

Between sessions, your therapist will ask you to record anything distressing that you experience, they will also talk to you about how you manage them.

8. Reevaluation

As you experience EMDR, your progress will be regularly evaluated and sessions will be tailored based on your needs.

Considerations before starting EMDR

  • Do some of your own research into EMDR, what it involves and how it might benefit you. Research therapists and speak to them before you begin, ask any questions that are worrying you.
  • Consider whether you are ready to undertake this work in terms of how you feel emotionally, time commitment and financially.
  • Think about what support you might need as you go through this process. Who can you call on if you need to speak to someone. Think about telling them about what you are going to do and arrange that you can call them if you need to.

EMDR can be incorporated into traditional counselling, it can be done in person or online and normally lasts around 60 minutes. I am an EMDR practitioner and if you would like to find out more about me and what I offer please take a look at my profile.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Kingswinford, West Midlands, DY6
Written by Paul Carter, (BACP Accredited)
Kingswinford, West Midlands, DY6

Paul is as a counsellor/psychotherapist, EMDR Practitioner and Clinical Supervisor. To find out more about Paul please visit his website.

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