Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR, therapy is an ideal treatment for trauma-induced challenges. Although typically used to treat PTSD, EMDR therapy can also help treat anxiety, depression, and other forms of psychological distress. If you’ve never received EMDR treatment before, you might not know what to expect, which can make you feel nervous, apprehensive, and tense. Fortunately, we can help ease some of that anxiety by providing you insight into what you can expect from your first EMDR treatment. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR is a type of therapy that uses sensory input to help people deal with, recover from, and overcome trauma and emotional distress. First developed in 1987, this method of therapy remains a popular way to effectively treat mental health and panic disorders. The goal of EMDR is simple: unblock emotional processes that have become stagnated by distress.
Normally, the brain influences emotions by:
- Helping you accurately perceive and react to emotional stimuli
- Regulating specific parts of the limbic system responsible for different emotions
- Managing memories that drive and inform your emotional well-being
- Balancing and regulating chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that dictate your mood
Trauma and psychological distress interfere with these processes, causing anxiety, panic, depression, nightmares, and obsessive thoughts that typically lead to poor emotional regulation. By unblocking these emotional processes, EMDR therapy can help you, in a sense, reprogram your brain. With the brain “reprogramed,” you can:
- Ease anxiety
- Relieve depression
- Overcome pain and fear
- Improve your self-esteem
- Deal with traumatic memories
- Better regulate distress emotions
- Develop new perspectives on distressing situations
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation as well as your senses to help you overcome trauma and psychological distress. Even though EMDR therapy primarily uses eye movements, this method of therapy can also include hand tapping and audio stimulation. As you dive into traumatic memories during EMDR sessions, you will also focus on a stimulus that switches or moves from left to right. This stimulation mimics the eye movement that happens in rapid eye movement or REM sleep.
During REM sleep, the brain is highly active, processing the various situations and events that happened during the day. In fact, when you’re in REM sleep, your brain conducts the highest level of processing it can achieve. EMDR is the second-highest level of processing the brain can do. What’s especially groundbreaking about EMDR is that the brain can process high levels of information while you’re awake.
During EMDR, you’ll be asked to focus on a specific negative event. As you do, the EMDR therapist will begin a set of side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. Focusing on the traumatic event while experiencing bilateral stimulation forces your eyes to move back and forth rapidly, which allows your brain to reprocess the trauma.
After each set of movement, you’ll talk about what came to mind during that session. Your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and images regarding the event may change. This is an indication of the reprocessing that is taking place. Eventually, the traumatic events or distressing emotion will become less disturbing.
Even though EMDR sessions typically take about 60 to 90 minutes, a full cycle of treatment includes 8 different phrases. Here’s what you can expect from your first treatment, which falls into the first phase of EMDR.
What To Expect From Your First EMDR Session
Every EMDR therapy session can be different, but during your first EMDR session, you can expect to talk about your history and treatment plan. Typically, this includes:
- Getting to know your therapist. If you don’t already know your therapist, you’ll spend a few minutes getting to know them. Feel free to ask them questions about their experience with EMDR. Take notice of their personality and make sure you feel comfortable with them. You won’t feel safe talking about distressing memories if you’re not comfortable with your therapist.
- Talking about your childhood. Phase 1 of EMDR is the history-taking part of treatment. This means that you and your therapist will sit down and talk about your childhood, your family home, parents, and siblings. You might also talk about your emotional well-being as a child. Did you feel happy? Sad? Afraid? Alone? This may feel uncomfortable at first, but in time, you’ll become accustomed to your therapist and the process.
- Discussing negative beliefs. In order to prepare an effective treatment plan, your therapist needs to know about any negative beliefs you’ve accepted as truth. Be open and honest. Your therapist will help you effectively combat these beliefs, but you need to discuss them first.
- Sharing disturbing issues, events, feelings, and memories. Be prepared to talk to your therapist about distressing events, issues, situations, feelings, and memories. Your discussion should include past challenges and present troubles.
What To Expect From Your First EMDR Desensitization Treatment
After gathering your history, your therapist will prepare you for the desensitization part of EMDR by teaching you various relaxation techniques. This is called the preparation phase. Once you’ve mastered a wide variety of stress-relieving coping strategies, you’ll be ready for your first EMDR desensitization treatment. During this particular session, you can expect to:
- Revisit traumatic events. In order to help your brain learn to reprocess traumatic events, your therapist may ask you to imagine a distressing time in your life. As traumatizing as this may seem, you’ll need to focus on the event for EMDR to be effective. Breathe deeply and take advantage of some of the relaxation techniques you learned in previous treatment sessions.
- Look at a moving light. Most EMDR clients admit that staring at a light as it moves back and forth can make you feel awkward. Don’t worry about this. Just keep following the light back and forth, from left to right. The process works. Just stay focused.
- Talk about how you feel. Be prepared to stop following the light every so often in order to talk about how you feel. Your therapist will guide you through this by asking you to describe how you feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically. You might have difficulty describing everything you feel but do your best.
- Feel tense after the session. EMDR therapy isn’t for the faint of heart. Recalling traumatic, distressing memories can leave you feeling tense long after the session ends. This is normal. Tell your therapist about what you’re feeling and know that in time, you’ll feel less tense and more at ease.
Expert Brain Science To Help Overcome Trauma & Distressing Emotions
At StoneRidge Centers, we use evidence-based treatment to help our clients overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges. Traumatic memories and distressing situations don’t have to continue to rule your life and disturb your peace. Innovative treatments like EMDR therapy can help restore your mental health. Let us help you get there. Contact us today to learn more.
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Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.