Free from Limitations... Live Fully in the Present

What if I can’t think of what in the past is linked up with the current situation?

There is no pressure or need to be able to identify what past experience might be impacting the present when you begin an EMDR session. A large part of the ease and success of EMDR is that it is very organic and holistic as a treatment and relies on the foundation that the body wants to restore balance and adaptively process information. Not all situations or experiences in the present are linked up with past experiences, so your therapist will guide you through the process of determining if there is an earlier experience that needs to be addressed and cleared before the issue in the present is addressed and cleared.

What if I don’t want my first EMDR session to focus on the really awful thing from my past?

That is absolutely ok. People have varying levels of comfort talking about painful experiences and it is very understandable that as you are beginning to work with a therapist and get a feel for what an EMDR session is like that you might not want to delve into something that feels really scary, overwhelming or daunting. There are times when it can be helpful for the first couple of EMDR sessions to focus on areas that are more based in the present or that you would identify as having an emotional charge in the 4-7 range. This can give you the opportunity to get a sense of what an EMDR session is like while experiencing relief. Also, there are times when a person has kept painful experiences locked away and an important part of the EMDR therapists’ job is to make sure that the person has a well developed set of supports and resources before beginning EMDR. The important thing to keep in mind is that you are in control and if you are not feeling ready to address that painful experience than it is perfectly ok to communicate this with your therapist.

How many sessions will it take?

This varies dramatically based on the person, how they process and what areas they want to work on when they begin EMDR. Some people begin EMDR therapy with a very specific area that they want to focus on and in that case they will often find the resolution, relief and change that they were seeking in 3-5 sessions. Other people are more interested in their overall personal growth and development and may want to work on change in multiple areas of their life with EMDR which would involve a more in-depth process.

Do I have to do EMDR every session?

There is certainly no pressure to do EMDR every session. Most people find a balance that involves a combination of EMDR sessions and talk therapy sessions. Sometimes after doing an EMDR session it can be helpful to spend the following session debriefing and using talk therapy to reflect on what was processed, what changes have been noticed and areas to address in the future.

Do you have to be a certain age?

EMDR can be used with people throughout the age span including early childhood and old age. For children and teens the protocol is modified to be age-appropriate.

I am afraid that if I open my feelings up I won’t be able to contain them (i.e. won’t stop crying, uncontrollable anger, tremendous fear etc.).

This is a very common concern for people and the willingness to seek out therapy of any form takes a lot of courage. In the healing process it is frequently said that you will feel worse before you begin to feel better (think of a fever spiking before it breaks, a wound being cleaned before it is sutured, a dislocated shoulder being put back in place) and in moments this is true for therapy. During an EMDR session the presence of feelings is unavoidable, in moments they might be very intense, surprise you or involve significant emotional releases. However, the most significant factor to consider is how long do I have to feel bad/pain before I begin to feel better. With the use of EMDR the shift away from the negative and painful feelings happens with much greater speed than if you were just talking about the experience. It is also the responsibility of the EMDR therapist to help you feel safe and contained during the session and to help you create distance if the processing is feeling too intense. Be mindful that the cost of keeping those feelings buried deep is that they become unhealthy and infect other areas of your life and well-being.

Eye movements seem strange, is that the only way to do EMDR?

No! Eye Movements are a form of bilateral stimulation (BLS) which activate the different hemispheres in the brain. However, there are other forms of bilateral stimulation and as EMDR has evolved to best meet the needs of clients we have  found that most people prefer being able to close their eyes while they process and opt to use another form of bilateral stimulation. Other forms of BLS include alternating pulsers, sounds or tapping. 

Who is EMDR for?

EMDR is for anyone that is open to change and wants some part of their life to be different. EMDR is also for people that want relief from a certain negative belief or experience that they found to be impactful.

How do I pick what to work on?

Your therapist will work collaboratively with you to identify areas, beliefs and experiences that might benefit from the use of EMDR. To help facilitate the process it can be helpful to think about areas of your life that you would like to be different, areas that you feel stuck in or symptoms that you are experiencing that you want relief from.  Additionally, if something has a strong emotional charge, meaning that when you think about the situation it elicits an emotional reaction or body sensation that can be a good indicator of a possible area to use EMDR with. To determine if something has emotional charge think about the experience or belief and then rate it  on a scale of 0-10 (0 being neutral and 10 being the most intense charge).  Most things we identify as having a charge above a 4 can benefit from EMDR.

Is a 50 or 80 minute session recommended for EMDR?

An 80 minute session is recommended, especially for the first EMDR session. An 80 minute session allows the client to experience EMDR without feeling rushed and allows for the therapist to get a feel for the speed with which the client processes. After the first EMDR session the therapist will discuss with the client whether it is most beneficial to move forward with 50 or 80 minute sessions.  Not all EMDR sessions have to be 80 minutes.

Will there always be resolution by the end of the session?

Ideally, by the end of an EMDR session there will be a sense of resolution and a feeling that things have shifted. However, it is important to keep in mind that some experiences and beliefs are more deeply rooted in our core and that like an onion sometimes we peel one layer away to find that there is another layer to work on. Similarly, some traumatic experiences are more complex than single incident traumas (i.e. constant verbal abuse in childhood compared to a car accident) and may require more time to process completely.

What happens if it isn’t fully resolved by the end of the session?

If you reach the end of an EMDR session and it doesn’t feel like there has been a complete sense of resolution your therapist will guide you in the process of containing the content that you were working on so that you are able to leave the session without feeling disturbed or activated. When you return to your next session your therapist will get your feedback about what you have noticed and assess how to most strategically move forward with EMDR.

What does it feel like after an EMDR session?

People frequently say that they feel lighter after an EMDR session and that there is a sense of relief, like a weight being lifted. Often you emerge from an EMDR session with a different, healthier perspective and a more positive sense of yourself. There are also times after an intense EMDR session that a person will feel drained and exhausted because of the depth of the healing work they just completed.

Can you be on medication and do EMDR?

It is strongly encouraged that you discuss any medications you are taking with your therapist. Most medications will not impact the ability to use EMDR. It is common for people taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to experience positive shifts and a reduction of symptoms with EMDR.   

Is it like Hypnosis?

An EMDR session is not the same as Hypnosis. During an EMDR session you are entirely present and in control during the whole process. EMDR is rooted in the belief that your body and mind wants to adaptively process information to create resolution and a sense of relief. Therefore, it knows where it needs to go in order to get to that place of resolution. Holding onto negative beliefs or memories that have not been entirely processed leaves the body out of balance and in a state of discomfort. With the bilateral stimulation used in EMDR the brain is allowed to adaptively process this information and regain a sense of balance.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t EMDR only used to treat trauma?

This is the most common misconception about EMDR. When EMDR was first gaining momentum as a new form of psychotherapy research was necessary in order to validate its efficacy in reducing symptoms and creating quantifiable change. As a result, numerous randomized controlled studies have shown EMDR to be one of the most effective therapies for treating traumatic memories and the symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, as EMDR has evolved to best meet the needs of clients, therapists have seen in their clinical work that the efficacy of EMDR is not only limited to treating trauma. EMDR therapists now use EMDR in sessions to address the most common issues that people seek therapy for (i.e. relationship issues, stress, anxiety, depression, etc).