What to Expect During EMDR Sessions

Oct 03, 2023
misc image
One of the most effective treatments for finding relief from psychological stress is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Here’s what you can expect during your EMDR sessions.

The incidence of trauma in the United States is considerable — approximately 70% of adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes and it’s a contributing factor in nearly all mental health and substance use disorders. 

One of the most effective methods for dealing with the aftermath of trauma is a therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which we offer here at our practice.

Our team of mental health experts at Open Door Wellness Center understand the effects that psychological stress can have on your life, and we’re here to help.

To get started, here’s a quick look at what EMDR can accomplish and what you can expect during your sessions.

Your brain and trauma

To better understand how EMDR works, let’s take a look at what happens in your brain when you experience a traumatic event. The areas of your brain that a psychological stressor affects are your:

  • Amygdala — where you register alarm
  • Hippocampus — your learning and memory center
  • Prefrontal cortex — where you analyze and control your emotions and behaviors

Under normal circumstances, these areas of your brain communicate with one another to recover from the shock.

When you have unresolved trauma, your brain can be fixed in a fight-or-flight response, and the normal healing process, in which the different areas of your brain process and resolve the event, are unable to function well.

How EMDR can help your brain heal

The goal of EMDR is to help your brain heal naturally by desensitizing it to the psychological stress that’s overriding your brain’s function.

To do this, we have you relive your trauma in small amounts while we introduce sounds, taps, or visual cues that your eyes follow from side-to-side. In doing this, we’re diverting your brain’s focus so that it doesn’t follow a stress response.

We then introduce a positive belief or response to your negative image, which encourages your brain to store what’s healthy while eliminating the negative. 

In helping you appropriately process harmful images and beliefs, your brain can heal and follow a more positive direction that will influence your emotions and behaviors.

Undergoing EMDR

In general, you should expect to undergo eight phases of EMDR, including:

  • Initial history discovery and treatment planning
  • Preparation
  • Assessment
  • Desensitization
  • Installation
  • Body scan
  • Closure
  • Reevaluation

After your initial assessment, evaluation, and preparation, we begin to explore your trauma while using external sensory stimuli, such as a moving light, vibrating handheld paddles, or tones you listen to through headphones. Rest assured, these stimuli are painless.

During your installation and body scan phases, we work on replacing your negative thoughts and beliefs with more positive ones, which will help control your emotional responses and relieve the tension in your body.

The closure and reevaluation phases are ones we complete at the end and beginning of each session, respectively. For example, at the end of each session, we ensure that you’re leaving feeling better than when you started. Then, when you come in the next time, we reevaluate your progress to ensure that the EMDR is working.

Each session lasts about 60-90 minutes, and there’s no set timeline as it depends upon how deeply embedded your trauma has become. Some patients require only a few sessions, while others undergo more.

If you have more questions about EMDR, please don’t hesitate to contact our office in Great Falls, Montana.