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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is an eight-phase model that has been shown to desensitize and reprocess negative events and trauma people have experienced in their lives. EMDR targets the negative images, emotions, thoughts, and body sensations, along with any other aspects that are stored in your nervous system. Trauma or negative events that continue to result in distress experienced in your daily life can be EMDR targets. The therapist will use the EMDR standard therapy protocol or will discuss using another protocol that is a better fit for your target.

You may be wondering what to expect during your appointment. In comparison to traditional therapy, EMDR is different as it utilizes a protocol and there isn't as much talking. The therapist will also be writing throughout the appointment. The focus of EMDR is for you to experience the trauma in a controlled setting in order to move through the difficult emotions, thoughts, body sensations, and your Fight/Flight response that was disrupted during the time of the trauma or negative event. The storage of this information in your nervous system can result in negative memories being triggered by daily life experiences; at times, this may feel uncontrollable. This gets us to the dual attention stimuli, which is the eye movement, taps, or tones. These allow you to have one foot in the target experience and one foot in the room with the therapist. The dual attention stimuli is also the mode at which processing occurs. The eye movement occurring during EMDR processing may be what is happening in REM sleep (i.e., the eye movements may be helping to process the unconscious material of the negative event); however, during EMDR you are awake doing all the work. The most important part to remember about EMDR is that you and your brain are in control and experiencing the healing.

When you arrive for an EMDR appointment, there will be a brief check-in, rating of your previous target to determine if continued targeting needs to occur and then setting up the target. You will provide the target image, the emotions that are experienced as you bring up the image, along with the negative thought and body sensations. You will rate your level of distress and then determine a more positive thought you would rather have associated with the memory. This will also be rated as the goal would be for the negative rating to decrease as the positive rating increases at the end of the appointment. Just as you want to decrease the distress, you will also install/increase the positive aspects gained through your reprocessing. At the end of the appointment, you will decrease the distress. If you still have distress remaining, the therapist will ensure you participated in containment and calming prior to leaving the appointment.

While processing during the desensitization phase, you may feel intense affect. This can include intense images, emotions, thoughts, and body sensations with the Fight/Flight feelings. These feelings are already inside of you and want to come up to be released from the nervous system. During the discomfort, you want to continue to move through it, which you may not have been able to do during the trauma or negative event, as you will most likely move past it by the end of the session. When you leave from your appointment you may continue to experience post session processing. This is where you may experience vivid dreams, emotions, or sensations and it will be completed after a few days. This is all a normal experience during and after an EMDR session and you may find it helpful to track these experiences too.

Lastly, it is important for you to feel comfortable with your therapist. This will be established through multiple appointments prior to starting EMDR desensitization phases. You will develop and practice EMDR coping skills, build the working relationship, discuss any questions or concerns with your therapist, and work on resourcing positive aspects prior to starting EMDR desensitization protocols. Each person is different in preparation to start targeting EMDR material and each person has the ability to achieve desensitization and reprocessing.

Again, it is important to speak with your EMDR therapist if you have any thoughts, questions or concerns about EMDR processing.

For more information regarding EMDR, please visit the following websites- or

104 S Freya Street

White Flag Building, Suite 119

Spokane, WA 99202

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