EMDR - What To Expect


The goal of EMDR is to reduce distress in the shortest period of time using a comprehensive approach with therapeutic protocols and procedures. There are eight phases to EMDR therapy which typically adhere to the following format:

During the initial phase your EMDR therapist will ask you about your history, including what kind of distress you are experiencing, whether or not you are taking any medication and what kind of support you are already receiving. Getting to know you in this way will help your therapist determine whether or not EMDR is the best course of action for you.

Before EMDR treatment begins, your therapist will talk you through the theory, answering any questions you may have. At this point your therapist will spend some time going through relaxation exercises (these may include guided meditations or breathing techniques) to utilise during the treatment and during times of stress outside of your sessions. Therapists refer to this second phase as preparation.

At this point you will be led through phases three to six. You will now target specific distressing memories with eye movements or other forms of left-right stimulation such as taps or sounds. To start with you will be asked to select an image to represent the event and then to think about positive and negative thoughts, the amount of distress you feel and where you feel it in your body. Your therapist will then use bilateral eye movements (or taps or sounds) in a series of 'sets' lasting around 25 seconds. After each set, you will be asked for feedback on your experience during the preceding set, before starting the eye movements again. Your therapist may also ask you to recall the orginal memory and ask you how it seems to you now. This will continue until your distress has cleared (or is reduced as much as possible) and you are experiencing more positive thoughts and feelings.

The seventh phase is known as closure and it offers you time to feel calm again using the relaxation exercises you learnt at the beginning of the session. Finally, the eighth phase is called re-evaluation - and this is effectively the first step in your next session. This phase will see you and your therapist working together to consider how you are coping and whether or not you need to address the same memory as last time or if you are able to move on to something different.

How will I feel after my session?

The nature of EMDR means that after your session the treatment will continue to be active in your awareness. This means that you may find yourself thinking about the thoughts you focused on during your session and you may feel the same emotions you experienced during your session. To help you through this process, allow yourself time and space to relax after an EMDR session and utilise the relaxation techniques you have learnt. Be sure to discuss your feelings with your therapist in your next session. While everyone is different, over time these feelings will generally become less intense and many people say they feel a strong sense of relief after their sessions. 

Is EMDR a kind of hypnosis?

EMDR is not considered a form of hypnosis. You will remain fully conscious and aware at all times during your session and you will have total control over what is happening. If at any point you feel uncomfortable or unable to continue - simply make your therapist aware.