EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, is a well-known type of trauma processing therapy for people. At its core, EMDR uses a back and forth movement called bilateral stimulation to unlock memories that are maladaptively stored in the brain. EMDR contains 8 phases of treatment. The way that EMDR works is simple but it takes an experienced therapist who has extensive training in EMDR to take someone through the process.
Here is my advice on how to make the most of your EMDR sessions and how to prepare for an EMDR processing session (phase 3 in EMDR treatment)
Benefits of Using EMDR for Trauma Therapy
The benefits of using EMDR versus other trauma therapies include an often faster relief of symptoms and a “gentler approach” to processing trauma. It is important to note that processing trauma has difficult components in any type of evidence based therapy. When you embark on EMDR therapy with a trained EMDR therapist, this can help reduce the difficulties of trauma processing.
Why is it Important to Prepare for an EMDR Session?
Understanding EMDR therapy, what to expect, and the role of your therapist in the process can help reduce any anxiety you may have. Often clients want to know what they will experience when actively processing trauma with EMDR.
A common way to explain phase 3 of EMDR is to imagine that you are on a train and memories are going by. You can choose to step out and visit those memories for a while and then get back on the train. Your therapist will be helping you through disturbing memories with tools, such as turning the image to black and white, to limit disturbance.
Have a Strong Therapeutic Relationship with Your EMDR Therapist
One of the most important aspects of processing complex trauma with EMDR is to have a strong therapeutic relationship with your therapist. Can you tell your therapist exactly how you feel and what you are experiencing? It is important to share any concerns or fears you may have for EMDR to be most beneficial.
You can also reflect back with your therapist on what you hope to achieve through EMDR, whether it’s reducing anxiety symptoms, healing from past trauma, or improving self-esteem (or something else altogether). Having that open communication and trust with your therapist and knowing they can successfully guide you through uncomfortable and challenging processing states is a must.
Plan for a Time to Start Processing
Many clients have a small time frame where they do not have major life events occurring, so finding the best time of the year for you to fully process trauma is important. Perhaps you have the summer off of school, or want to process trauma before your son’s first birthday. Planning ahead with your therapist can be helpful in finding a time that is most optimal. Of course, it is important to note that life happens and plans change, so understanding this and having less rigid thinking can also be helpful.
When you do find an ideal time, perhaps you want to consider adding a couple sessions a week or having one 2-hour session. Having this extra flexibility allows for less of a feeling of flooding your system and then having to close up the session and start again the following week.
You can also schedule an EMDR session one week and then the next have a “regular” session, if you prefer to take it slower. There can be flexibility with EMDR. Just know that a trained therapist will help guide you through any avoidance type behaviors that might be creeping in.
Create a Safe and Comfortable Environment Without Interruptions
Find a quiet and private space for your sessions. EMDR is just as effective over telehealth as in person, so if you aren’t able to come into an office for EMDR, that is just fine to do it in the comfort of your own home. If you are in your home environment, you can have your support system near, whether it be humans, cats, dogs, or squishmellows - being at home you can surround yourself with the comforts you need. Here are some more tips:
Make sure you have a comfortable chair or cushion
Have tissues available
Keep a water bottle or water to drink close by
Tell your human support system that you might need some extra help because you are processing trauma with your therapist. Telling people ahead of time will help you pick up the phone easier when and if you do need them.
Find Time for Extra Self Care
To further prepare for your EMDR sessions, engage in activities that help you relax and de-stress. In other words, be kind to yourself. You are doing wonderful, difficult work and deserve a break. Turn towards self care that is relaxing and de-stressing. Try gentle yoga, baths, your favorite tea in a comfy spot, going into nature, anything to rejoy your soul. Often EMDR processing can increase tiredness, so allow yourself the space to sleep and sleep and sleep. Listen to what your body, mind, spirit are calling for.
Reflect onYour Emotions and Experience
Keep a journal to track your feelings and thoughts as you are going through EMDR. Journaling is a helpful way to process emotions and take note of any new memories or insights you might have. After you finish a desensitizing session, you will continue to “process” or have memories, somatic sensations, or thoughts come up at home. Writing any new information down will help you remember to share with your therapist at the next session.
Trust the Process and Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable
Lastly, we can talk and talk about what the experience of EMDR processing is like, but you might just need to get on the horse to fully understand. Trusting the process of EMDR is so important. During processing, your brain is going to do what it needs to do. Let the information come in, no matter how “silly” or irrelevant” you might find it to be.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable with that therapist you trust. Allow the information to move freely, knowing that the volume on those traumatic symptoms will eventually be turned down. Remember, you are not opening wounds, the wounds are already in your nervous system and EMDR is just allowing the information to unlock and flow through.
Finally, EMDR is a wonderful trauma processing therapy. Taking time to prepare for trauma processing by following this simple advice can help you feel more empowered and less fearful of doing the difficult work. Following these tips can create a successful experience of finally having freedom from trauma symptoms. Reach out to a qualified therapist and start the journey to empowering yourself through emdr therapy.
How We Can Help
Interested in emdr therapy with kristen? Schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation!
If you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:
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Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Kristen Dammer believes in addressing the whole health needs of you as a person, and her dedication, creativity, and flexibility as a therapist are her greatest strengths. Her holistic approach to anxiety, grief and trauma helps you feel in control and creates a welcoming environment for you to share your vulnerabilities, fears, and experiences. She is trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and uses it to treat anxiety and trauma. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.