EMDR for PTSD: What to Expect

Sep 20, 2022
EMDR for PTSD: What to Expect
People living with PTSD may suffer from symptoms that can interfere with their lives. Learn how EMDR can help.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects millions of people each year. When you’ve suffered from a traumatic event, whether it’s a history of assault, experiencing the loss of a loved one, or serving in the military, you may feel haunted by these experiences. This can present several unpleasant symptoms, including flashbacks to the event, having feelings of guilt, or constantly feeling “on edge.”

This is because you haven’t processed the traumatic experience that you’ve had, which is very common. But trauma is not the kind of thing you can just avoid and hope that it will go away; it will very likely continue to affect you for many years unless you get help. 

One of those methods of helping is called EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The providers at Open Door Wellness Center in Great Falls, Montana, explain more about what to expect from EMDR for PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms usually fall into four categories. These include:

  • Reliving the traumatic experience, such as through flashbacks
  • Avoidance symptoms, specifically of places, people, or events that remind you of the trauma
  • Mood symptoms and cognition problems, which include negative thoughts about yourself, guilt, or losing interest in previously enjoyed things
  • Increased arousal symptoms, such as being “on edge” or hypervigilant

It’s common for these symptoms to have a major influence on your life.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is an acronym for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. It’s a form of psychotherapy that helps your brain adequately process the trauma that you’ve experienced. 

EMDR is recognized as an effective form of therapy for processing trauma by many reputable organizations, including the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

What to expect from EMDR

It’s normal to feel a little nervous about EMDR, especially if you don’t know much about it. One of the hallmarks of PTSD is nervousness about new experiences. Fortunately, EMDR is not scary at all. Here’s what to expect from an EMDR treatment.

The first step in EMDR treatment is the most important one: establishing a sense of safety. This is the key that makes the other components possible.

Then, you’ll go through the phases of EMDR treatment, which include the following:

History taking and treatment planning

The clinician takes a full history of the traumatic event to gain a thorough understanding of what you’ve experienced. Then, you establish a treatment plan together.


During this phase, the therapist introduces the procedure, which consists of the therapist's use of external stimuli to cause your eyes to move the way they do when you are in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.


In this phase of treatment, the therapist will activate the traumatic memory and focus on the thoughts and emotions that the memory creates in you.


In the desensitization phase, you will continue thinking about the traumatic memory while making the eye movements that you’ve been taught.


The preferred way of thinking about the traumatic event is “installed” at this time. You will be given a new way to view the event, such as being reminded that the trauma is over and that you survived and are safe.

Body scan

You will be asked to do a scan of your whole body during this stage of treatment, noticing any areas of tension that remain. If any are still present, we’ll work through them again.


This is one of the last stages of an EMDR session. In the event that you haven’t fully processed the trauma yet, which is not uncommon, you will be given guidance about how to retain a feeling of safety as you go about your time until your next session.


This final stage of an EMDR session is also where we’ll begin your next session. You’ll report on your current psychological state and whether any memories of the traumatic event have recurred.

If you have a lot of trauma that still has a hold on you, long after the event, it’s time that you set yourself free. EMDR treatments are an excellent way to achieve that. Call Open Door Wellness Center today or request an appointment online.