Things to know before starting EMDR therapy
Over 100,000 medical professionals throughout the world use EMDR therapy. Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 25 years. It’s an incredibly effective treatment for PTSD and C-PTSD.
Despite that, it’s important for individuals with PTSD or past trauma experiences to go into EMDR therapy with an full understanding of what the treatment requires and entails. To read about some real life experiences of people just like you, visit our EMDR case studies page here.
‘Revisiting’ your trauma
You might be concerned that EMDR therapy will make you “confront” your worst moments in life. But, your therapist will guide the pace of your work together so it is as comfortable for you as possible. One therapist said ‘The process of EMDR psychotherapy is often very comfortable for many patients. Clients regularly comment to me that they are surprised at how this work is easier than they thought it would be.’
Unlike some other therapies, ‘EMDR therapy clients are not asked to relive the trauma intensely and for prolonged periods of time. In EMDR therapy, when there is a high level of intensity it only lasts for a few moments and then decreases rapidly. If it does not decrease rapidly on its own, the clinician has been trained in techniques to assist it to dissipate. The client has also been trained in techniques to immediately relieve the distress.
Patients will be instructed to revisit their trauma multiple times during treatment – but that doesn’t always mean talking about it, something which many people find very appealing when looking at therapy options.
Still, the process can be mentally and emotionally stressful on patients and can trigger negative responses in the early stages of treatment. The intense mental focus that occurs during therapy may linger for a while after a session has ended. This may cause the patient to feel faint or experience lucid dreams. While these side effects may be challenging at times, they are typically more favourable than those caused by medicinal treatment. Also, EMDR therapy typically results in a better outcome with longer-lasting relief.
Sleep and dreams
Following an EMDR session, it’s not unusual for sleep to be impacted. Vivid dreams are common as well as feeling more sensitive to interactions with others and to external stimuli.
Temporary increase in emotional distress
As with any form of psychotherapy, there may be a temporary increase in distress, but your therapist will provide you tools and techniques to help with these. For some people, distressing and unresolved memories may emerge in between sessions, some may experience reactions during a treatment session that neither they nor their therapist may have anticipated, including a high level of emotion or physical sensations (again, setting your ‘safe place’ can really help with these) and in between treatment sessions, the processing of incidents may continue, and therefore other dreams, memories and feelings, may emerge. Your therapist will ensure you are equipped to deal with all of these events if they occur.
In the end, EMDR therapy really does hold the promise of finding relief from PTSD and complex trauma symptoms. There’s nothing “magic” about it. But it’s been scientifically shown to work and have lasting results. Working with a skilled and experienced trauma treatment expert can be life changing.
Please remember, these are not medical recommendations. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you. EMDR should always be delivered by properly trained therapists.
EMDR Treatment Case Studies
Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA). (2017, June 29). PTSD in children quickly and effectively treatable within hours. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 23, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170629085311.htm
Carletto Sara, Borghi Martina, Bertino Gabriella, Oliva Francesco, Cavallo Marco, Hofmann Arne, Zennaro Alessandro, Malucchi Simona, Ostacoli LucaTreating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis: A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing the Efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Relaxation Therapy Frontiers in Psychology VOL. 7 2016 Page 526 https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00526 DOI10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00526
Chen L, Zhang G, Hu M, Liang X. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing versus cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult posttraumatic stress disorder: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2015 Jun;203(6):443-51. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000306. PMID: 25974059.
Chen Y-R, Hung K-W, Tsai J-C, Chu H, Chung M-H, Chen S-R, et al. (2014) Efficacy of Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for Patients with Posttraumatic-Stress Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS ONE 9(8): e103676. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103676
Bisson, J., Roberts, N.P., Andrew, M., Cooper, R. & Lewis, C. (2013). Psychological therapies for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003388.pub4
Bradley, R., Greene, J., Russ, E., Dutra, L., & Westen, D. (2005).A multidimensional meta-analysis of psychotherapy for PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 214-227.
Lee, C.W., & Cuijpers, P. (2013). A meta-analysis of the contribution of eye movements in processing emotional memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry, 44, 231-23
Seidler, G.H., & Wagner, F.E. (2006). Comparing the efficacy of EMDR and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of PTSD: a meta-analytic study. Psychological Medicine, 36,1515-1522.
Acarturk, C., Konuk, E., Cetinkaya, M., Senay, I., Sijbrandij, M., Gulen, B., & Cuijpers, P. (2016). The efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among Syrian refugees: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Psychological medicine, 46(12), 2583-2593
Raymond W. Gunter, Glen E. Bodner, How eye movements affect unpleasant memories: Support for a working-memory account, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 46, Issue 8, 2008, Pages 913-931, ISSN 0005-7967,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2008.04.006.
Comparison of two treatments for traumatic stress: A community-based study of EMDR and prolonged exposure, Ironson, B. Freund, J. L. Strauss, J. Williams
Scheck MM, Schaeffer JA, Gillette C. Brief psychological intervention with traumatized young women: the efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. J Trauma Stress. 1998 Jan;11(1):25-44. doi: 10.1023/A:1024400931106. PMID: 9479674.
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