There are several different phases of EMDR treatment. The first few sessions of EMDR therapy require preparation so that you and the therapist feel comfortable with each other; establish a rapport and a sense of safety in the room. Relaxing and grounding techniques are taught and practised to maintain emotional safety. Goals for treatment are established and a full history is taken, as well as a genogram or family map prepared. This is to ensure that the best treatment plan is followed to achieve your goals.
During the preparation phase a selection is made of the appropriate form of eye movement, that is looking from one side then the other. This side to side motion of the eyes also known as bilateral stimulation (BLS) as the left and right hemispheres of the brain are also stimulated. Remember it is the bilateral stimulation that has been shown in studies to rapidly processes the trauma memories in much the same way as your brain does during the REM phase of sleep. More research is needed to understand exactly how this happens.
You as the client will choose which form of BLS you prefer, whether that is eye movement, which may involve your eyes following your therapist’s finger from left to right; wearing headphones so audio passes from one ear to the other; holding small alternately pulsing paddles – one in each hand – or having each knee gently tapped in turn. Everyone is different so any one of the different forms of BLS could be right for you.
In later sessions, traumatic memories are processed, firstly by selecting a target. This involves being asked, with the help of your therapist, to:
- Think of a troubling memory, then identify an image of the worst moment of that memory;
- Identify a negative belief about that worst moment (the therapist may ask “what is the worst thing that moment says about you?”);
- Identify emotions and bodily feelings linked to that moment;
- Think about the image and belief while at the same time making left-to-right eye movements (or while paying attention to tapping sensations or sounds that are alternately given from left-to-right);
- To allow your mind to ‘go with’ whatever comes up and just notice what happens.
- This process will be repeated until the memory causes less distress (this may happen in one session, or may take more than one session).