If you’re considering seeking out EMDR therapy to help deal with your trauma symptoms, you might be wondering what typical EMDR therapy sessions are like and how it differs to regular therapy. What EMDR therapy has in common with most other therapies is that it involves you and your therapist in a confidential and safe space working collaboratively to help you feel better. What’s different is that it is a structured approach and does not simply involve an hour of open processing with therapeutic feedback. Below are the 8 distinct phases of EMDR therapy.
Clinical History and Setting Goals
Your therapist will spend time getting to know you and your clinical history in terms of past trauma. Your therapist will also help you set goals and assess what resources you have for trauma healing.
Your therapist will work on strengthening the alliance between the two of you, reviewing the EMDR process with you and teaching you specific skills that you can use to cope with emotional distress.
Your therapist will ask you to identify a past traumatic event. This may include emotions, thoughts, images and sensations related to the event as well as negative beliefs that you hold about yourself as a result of the trauma. You will also learn to rate your distress on a subjective units of distress (SUDS) scale.
This phase involves bilateral stimulation which could be eye movements or tapping that you will perform while recalling the traumatic event. You will continue this until you have a decrease in your distress rating.
Your therapist will work with you on strengthening positive beliefs that you would like to hold as true regarding the traumatic event.
This involves revisiting the traumatic event to assess whether any residual trauma resides inside the body. Ideally you will be able to recall the trauma without feeling physically or emotionally distressed/aroused and instead be able to hold the positive belief associated with the trauma as true.
Your therapist helps you to return to a calm state and reinforces skills you have learned for managing emotional distress associated with your trauma.
Your therapist will continue to address trauma memories that you have worked on in therapy to ensure that your arousal levels continue to be low or neutral when thinking about the trauma and that you can continue to maintain positive beliefs around the meaning of the trauma. You and your therapist will also decide on what other traumatic memories you need to target in future EMDR sessions.