The EMDR Therapy Process
I thought it might be helpful to provide some information on the EMDR process—what to expect during EMDR therapy.
EMDR is a powerful approach to trauma and anxiety resolution that involves pairing mindful awareness of a particular stressful memory with brain stimulation using eye movements, body tapping, or sound. For more information on the theory behind EMDR, have a look at this article.
EMDR begins with a thorough assessment that focuses on both how you have been impacted by overwhelming, stressful, and traumatic experiences, as well as how you are currently functioning. From an EMDR perspective, the difficulties we have can often be attributed to adverse experiences, either in the distant past or more recent. By identifying particular incidents, you and your therapist develop a focus for EMDR work, sometimes referred to as target memories.
In the next phase, you and your therapist work together to develop inner and outer resources that can be supportive to you during the reprocessing phase of the work. Resource development can involve a variety of approaches—from problem solving daily life challenges, to calm place imagery, to internal protector/nurturing/wise figures, etc. These resources are utilized during the reprocessing phase when needed to help keep you within your window of tolerance and to aid in reprocessing. For example, during an EMDR session and client might find themselves feeling anxious; a protector figure that has been developed can be called up in the client’s imagination to instill a sense of safety and calm. Alternatively, the same protector figure might be incorporated into reprocessing work, when the client imagines the protector with them in the traumatic memory. The former is an example of using a resource to regulate emotion while the latter is an example of using a resource to further memory processing.
The next phase focuses on reprocessing target memories. During this phase, you and the therapist focus on a particular memory while receiving BLS. The therapist guides the process, directing you to particular aspects of your experience with questions and suggestions, so that the painful and charged memory is allowed to be more fully integrated into a narrative memory. Some memories move very quickly, while other memories take more time. Still other memories lead to earlier memories that might also need to be reprocessed too. These are simply added to the list.
Over time, as memories are processed, it is not uncommon for target memories on the list that have not been addressed to begin to lose their charge. Memories, particularly those of a traumatic nature, tend to be connected to each other and the reprocessing of one memory can have a generalizing effect to other memories. This is usually very exciting for clients who realize that their work on a subset of memories is actually having a wider impact.
Hopefully this brief article gives you a better sense of what the EMDR process looks like. If you have further questions, please contact me for more information.
Sil Machado, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Santa Rosa, CA. He works extensively with individuals struggling with trauma-related issues, providing psychotherapy and neurofeedback. Dr. Machado takes an integrative approach in which he blends depth and experiential psychotherapies with evidence-based practices, such as EMDR, in a manner suited to the unique needs of each client.