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Insights Into EMDR Sessions From a Therapist

An individual who is struggling with trauma looking to understand EMDR and how it helps

Let’s start with some very basics of EMDR and trauma.

What is EMDR?

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a trauma treatment that decreases distress associated with disturbing memories. When you experience trauma, it sometimes becomes locked within your neural brain networks. This means that your trauma is stored in your brain intact with the original images, body sensations and negative cognitions that you experienced during the trauma(s). This trauma storage can cause severe reactions to any similar present-day stressors (often below consciousness) that may remind your brain of the original traumatic experience(s).

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR uses a back-and-forth movement, called bilateral stimulation, that intentionally activates your neural networks related to a specific past event, body sensation, negative cognition, or emotion. This helps to desensitize your reactions to any triggers you may have of the trauma.  In the end stage of EMDR, you focus on your future, where you imagine feeling more empowered in your ability to adapt and feel more resourced overall.

 If you think of trauma as an infected wound, many topical solutions help for a while, but the wound keeps festering without proper treatment. Our brains sometimes block adaptive or “healing” information from finding a way to the wound. EMDR is a trauma-processing therapy that decreases negative symptoms from unprocessed memories. 

Let’s say that you suddenly experience intense anxiety when flying, where you almost black out with fear and feel that your heart would explode. Because all your previous flights were fine except for two weeks ago, when the flight experienced sudden turbulence, you don’t understand why you are having such a severe, “out of portion” reaction from such mild turbulence.

When working with your EMDR therapist, you connect a memory of a similar sensation, where you felt “no control” during a childhood car accident. A certified and experienced therapist uses EMDR to unlock that adaptive “healing,” information already within your brain, to help close the wound of trauma and decrease the symptoms, so you’re back to flying in the skies again. 

So now that you understand some of the basics of why EMDR, here are four insights to note with EMDR therapy:

1.Noticing and Processing in EMDR

An individual looking to understand EMDR and how it helps with trauma

During EMDR sessions, your therapist will encourage you to pay attention to what you notice. Whether it’s vivid images, intense feelings, or physical sensations related to a traumatic event, share them openly. Even seemingly unrelated details, crazy or strange, can be significant.

Having a strong therapeutic relationship with your therapist is an important foundation to trauma treatment. Tell your therapist if you’re feeling stuck in the process. An EMDR-trained therapist will have a plethora of tools to help move you through the process without overwhelming distress.

2.Shift in Sensations During EMDR

Be prepared for shifts during EMDR. As you revisit traumatic memories, you might notice changes in yourself. Insights may emerge, and your body sensations could transform. These shifts indicate that your brain is actively processing the trauma. Trust the process and allow these shifts to occur naturally.

EMDR can be described as being on a train and watching the memories go by. You choose which platform to get off on and for how long. You will have one foot in the past and one foot in the present.  There is often a lot of “front work” before processing. Your experienced EMDR therapist will work with you to build internal resources to help you feel safe, nurtured and protected during the process.

3.EMDR Bilateral Stimulation

EMDR often involves bilateral stimulation—side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. This rhythmic pattern helps rewire neural pathways associated with trauma. It’s like recalibrating your brain’s response to distressing memories. And yes, EMDR works just the same virtually as in person.

If you are doing EMDR virtually through telehealth, your therapist will often use an app or an EMDR platform that has a bright-colored ball and a soothing sound (both of which you get to choose from a menu) that will move across the screen.

During this process, you get to choose the type of bilateral stimulation that works best with you. Some clients need to close their eyes or have migraines, so they prefer to listen to the sound and tap side to side on their own knees. You might also prefer the good, old “follow my fingers” where your therapist just moves their fingers, and your eyes follow. Your therapist will guide you through this process, promoting healing.

4.Brief Responses in EMDR Treatment Matter

During EMDR processing, your therapist will guide you through the process by asking you to “notice.” The therapist will stop the bilateral stimulation and ask you what you are noticing. It is best to keep the answer to a few sentences. At times, talking too much in between sets can disrupt the process.

EMDR will also feel different than talk therapy as your therapist will not be “attuning” to you with words. A well-trained EMDR therapist will understand how to show attunement by being in the here and now with you, building a strong, secure therapist alliance. Your therapist will also be watching you through the processing, focusing on when they see a “wave” of discharge move through you.

Having the foundation of feeling safe with your therapist before deep trauma work like EMDR allows you to feel more comfortable with your therapist intensely observing you during processing. Therapists aim to maintain the flow of trauma processing without lengthy interruptions. Trust your instincts, share what arises, and remember that there are no right or wrong responses. Honesty and openness are key.

EMDR therapy is a powerful tool for processing trauma and a variety of other symptoms. By understanding these aspects, you can actively participate in your recovery. Find a trained, experienced EMDR therapist that feels safe to travel hand in hand with you in your healing journey.

How We Can Help

Learn about our emdr/trauma treatment at catalyss counseling

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:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

Kristen Dammer is an LCSW specializing in women's issues and postpartum depression.

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.

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