What does an EMDR session look like?

EMDR is pretty scripted in terms of what I say as the therapist in a session. Go to any EMDR therapist, and you will likely hear pretty much the same things. But what should you expect in an EMDR session? We begin by identifying a trauma, symptom, issue, or even a sensation if memories are hard to reach. We narrow this issue down to a “snapshot” of the worst of the incident. If I were holding a picture in my hand that captured the worst of the memory, what would I see? This is what we will work on in the session.

The goal is to reduce the negative emotional charge you have related to the incident down to a zero or a one on a scale from 0-10. Zero representing no distress at all when you think about the issue and 10 being the most amount of distress you can imagine feeling when bringing up the issue. Once we have the snapshot or picture, you come up with a negative thought you have about yourself when you bring the incident to mind.

It might be “I am not safe,” I should have done something” or “I did something wrong”. I then ask you what you would rather believe about yourself related to that incident. It might be “I am safe”, “I did the best I could, or I learned from it.”

We then briefly identify any feelings that are coming up for you in the moment when you repeat the negative thought. We rate your current level of distress on the scale from 0-10 and identify where in your body you feel that distress. The EMDR begins with you holding the picture representing the worst of the incident, while feeling those identified emotions earlier and repeating the negative statement.

In the beginning it may feel like a lot to hold in your mind all at once, but it does get easier. At this point I turn on the Bilateral Stimulation, and let it run anywhere from 1-3 minutes. We will find the sweet spot for you after a few rounds. After I stop the bilateral stimulation, I will simply ask, “what do you notice now or what comes up now?” I am looking for thoughts and emotions. You do not have to speak about your trauma for EMDR to work. Just share what came up during the bilateral stimulation. I will pull out a thought or an emotion and ask you to focus on that “and let whatever happens, happen.”

Try not to censor yourself or control your thoughts or emotions. Whatever naturally comes up is perfect and right. We repeat this process for about 20-25 minutes. With some memories, the negative emotional charge associated with it gets down to a 0 or a 1 on that scale of 0-10. Other times, the distress is a bit higher, but usually still lower than when we began.

Any memory with a score of 0 or 1 is considered processed and you should feel immediate relief. Some EMDR sessions take a couple weeks, sometimes longer to clear. Once the negative emotional charge is gone, I have you repeat the positive statement you believe about yourself while turning on the bilateral stimulation.

If a memory needs more time to process, we will end with one of the specific coping skills I teach before even starting EMDR. This is to make sure you are feeling grounded, safe, and ready to drive. After a session, I always remind my clients that the work we have done may stir up more memories. The coping skills I teach will help you manage these if they happen.

So that is a basic EMDR session. It doesn’t vary much from this script. When a troubling memory is cleared up and processed in one or two sessions, I’ve had clients say things like, “I finally have my life back” or “I can’t believe it’s just simply a memory now, there‚Äôs no emotional charge anymore.” EMDR is very powerful. If you think EMDR might be helpful for you, call for a free 15-minute consultation. Let’s talk about how you can get YOUR life back! Call the office at 603-994-0114.

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