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What Does an EMDR Session Look Like?

Updated: Oct 30, 2022


First, here's what you won't see in an EMDR session:

Eye-movements, known as bilateral stimulation (BLS) is not hypnotism. You will not be hypnotized during an EMDR session. It is also not a trance state. You are fully aware, fully conscious, and during majority of the session, grounded in the present moment. You are always in control and can stop the session work at any time.


It's not all about the past. EMDR therapy is separated in focus to the past, present, and future. We will be looking at events that happened in the past that contribute to triggers in the present that are creating your distress today, and then building positive future outlooks that no longer contain past traumatic residue.


EMDR is not a "quick fix", but it can bring about relief in considerably fewer sessions than talk therapy.


alt="brain activity before emdr session, brain activity lessened with emdr therapy"

It can take up to six sessions, maybe more, to fully process an event that is being targeted. Each session should be at least an hour to permit time for grounding, processing, and stabilization before leaving the safety of the therapy room.


It is optimal to give yourself plenty of time in between EMDR sessions, especially when consequential information moves to awareness. This time is for adequate processing and to allow other connections to be made, giving your brain sufficient time to reset what has been learned -this typically happens when you sleep.


The time between also allows you to regulate your system as some sessions are more intense than others and require adequate space for healing and acceptance of new knowledge. This may also contribute to increased feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety in the immediate period following an EMDR session, but it is a temporary and normal response.


The 8 phases of EMDR therapy that you will be engaged in:

  1. Planning for possible targets for treatment that relate to the presenting issue, or why you have sought therapy at this time. Compiling symptoms, establishing core beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” or “I am worthless.” You will then be asked when you first remember feeling that “I’m not good enough” or first experience of worthlessness. This will generally take you to a memory in your childhood and this will most likely be what is targeted in session.

  2. To prepare for an EMDR session you will be taught grounding techniques as a way to bring you back to the present and de-escalate any intense feelings or sensations. For some, it’s as simple as deep breathing and feeling their body in the chair. For others, it might be getting up, walking around, looking around the room and describing the surroundings. You will also be able to create a safe and calm place for yourself in your head that you imagine yourself being in when you need it. It will be explained that you are only observing the past, you are not reliving it. The metaphor of riding a train is used here. If you were a passenger riding a train through the memory you would observe through the window what is happening, but it would be happening outside the train, not to you, the passenger, only witnessing the landscape of the memory.

  3. The next step is to picture an image of the targeted memory in your head; the part that most disturbs you. This disturbance will be measured so we know throughout the therapy if we’re decreasing its hold or not. Then you’ll identify the negative belief you associate with it, and a positive belief that you would like to use as a replacement. The strength of the positive belief will also be measured in order to determine how close we are getting to changing the meaning of the memory.

  4. In phase 4 we begin eye-movements, which means we’re beginning to reprocess the memory. This is the portion that generally takes the longest, over multiple sessions. During this phase, it’s important to note that there are no wrong answers; whatever comes up is what is meant to come up and we do not judge or attempt to change what your brain or body brings to the surface. Everything is relevant. Everything is valued.

  5. Once we have reached the level of reprocessing that decreases the level of disturbance to a zero (sometimes one), EMDR therapy moves to install the positive belief. Eye-movements are also used here to help your brain support the new belief through new neural connections. Successful installation of your positive belief is measured at a maximum of 7.

  6. To further conclude that EMDR therapy has treated the issue, you will be asked to scan your body for any residual negative sensations or any positive sensations. Eye-movements are continued to process negative sensations or to increase positive sensations.

  7. Closing out the EMDR treatment means that the issue you began with has been desensitized and reprocessed and no longer causes you any disturbance. There are feelings of relief, calmness, and generally being at peace. The hard work has been done and you should be able to live your life without the targeted issue interfering.

  8. The next session will re-evaluate if what was established in the previous session is true, or if something else has come up that must be attended to. If this happens, the target is revisited, opening back up at phase 4, and treatment continues all the way through until there truly is no longer any interference.


alt="woman breathing easily in a peaceful setting"

If you have more questions or want to get started with EMDR therapy, please call: 254-374-6141

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