Your First EMDR Therapy Session: What to Expect

When you are considering EMDR Therapy, it is important to know what to expect. This type of therapy can be extremely helpful for people who have experienced trauma, but it is not right for everyone. If you are considering a treatment for the first time, it is important to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the process. In this article, we will discuss what you can expect during your first session and how to get the most out of this type of therapy.

What is EMDR Therapy and who does it help? 

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It is a type of psychological treatment that helps people to resolve trauma and can be delivered as online therapy. It is based on the principle that the brain can heal itself after a traumatic event. EMDR Therapy is the short name of what was originally called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). 

It was designed as a process to help people to process and recover from their traumatic experiences. EMDR Therapy is often used to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

EMDR therapists can also use it to treat other conditions, such as anxiety, depression and phobias. Online EMDR Therapy sessions are conducted over video conference with a trained therapist. 

During an online EMDR session, the therapist will guide the client through a series of eye movements and/or other forms of bilateral stimulation. This process activates the memory networks and helps the client to process and release their trauma. Eye Movement Desentisitisaion Therapy is an effective treatment for many people who have experienced trauma. It can help people to overcome the impact of their traumatic experiences and live happier, healthier lives.

How does EMDR Therapy work

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Your EMDR therapist will spend time in the first few sessions of therapy trying to understand the challenges that have been traumatic for you. Together you will select a target memory and then your therapist will guide you through a series of eye movements, and other bilateral stimulation, while you simultaneously focus on the memory of the traumatic event.  The goal is for you to eventually be able to think about the memory without feeling any emotional distress.

Scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of EMDR Therapy

Studies have shown that EMDR Therapy is an effective treatment for PTSD and other traumatic events, such as sexual abuse or assault, or vehicle or workplace accidents. If you are considering online therapy, be sure to ask if your therapist is trained in EMDR Therapy.

How to prepare for your very first EMDR Therapy session

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Starting online therapy can be a daunting experience, especially if you're not sure what to expect. Your first few sessions with your therapist will be preparation for EMDR Therapy, you will not actually do any EMDR in your first session. 

Your therapist will take a detailed history from you and explain the process in more detail and identify any areas of focus. When you begin a therapy, there are a few things you can do, to prepare for your first session. 

At Therapy Online, we provide our clients with a handout that explains how to prepare yourself for an EMDR Therapy session - things like having water, making sure that you are not going to be disturbed and ensuring that you have headphones for your privacy and to ensure any auditory bilateral stimulation is easily heard. 

It's important to understand that online EMDR Therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. You'll be able to work with a registered therapist who can help you process your traumatic experiences and address any other mental health concerns you may have. So, be sure to ask any questions you have about the process before beginning EMDR Therapy. This will help you feel more comfortable and confident as you begin your journey toward healing.

Are you ready for EMDR?

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Many people consider EMDR Therapy after unsuccessfully trying many other types of therapy. Most people are able to engage in EMDR Therapy, but there are some general signs that indicate that you may be a good candidate for online EMDR Therapy. 

It is preferable that you are generally stable and able to manage your emotions, but your therapist can support you to improve this before you begin. You should also be able to follow directions and be comfortable with online communication. In addition, you should be motivated to work on your issues and willing to commit to the process of online EMDR Therapy. If you can tick off these things, you are ready to start online EMDR Therapy.

Typical EMDR Therapy session length

While the length of time required for an EMDR session can vary depending on the individual and the severity of their trauma, we require a minimum of 60 minutes per session, in some cases we may recommend longer sessions. This is because EMDR Therapy is an intensive treatment that requires both focus and concentration and raises emotional feelings that need time to be processed.

Eight Phases of EMDR

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EMDR Therapy is a highly effective treatment option for individuals who have experienced trauma in the past, including abuse or neglect. The process of EMDR focuses on three time periods: the past where attention needs to be focused on memories that are disturbing; present-day situations which may cause distress if not dealt with positively; and finally developing skills needed to face future actions without fear. 

The treatment consists of eight distinct phases: preparation, assessment, desensitisation, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation. This eight-phase approach deals primarily with these areas by utilising various techniques such as having you focus solely upon one specific event while tracking movements via a visual, audio or tactile interface, or a combination of all three.

1. An overview of your life experiences (Preparation)

This phase of EMDR Therapy is all about taking a deep dive into your memories to find the ones that are causing you distress. The therapist will help guide this process, while also working on developing treatments for any emotions linked with these findings- which could include everything from fear and sadness, right up to anger!

2. Preparing you to handle some negative experiences in the past (Preparation)

To ensure that you have several different ways of handling emotional distress during this EMDR Therapy, the therapist will provide you with imagery and stress reduction techniques, which you can draw on between sessions for a more comfortable experience with your treatment.

3. Identifying the past experiences you will need to deal with (Assessment)

The therapist will help you identify specific target memories to work on.

4. Working through some of these past experiences (Desensitisation)

This phase involves online therapy sessions in which the patient will discuss their target memories, while engaged in bilateral stimulation, such as watching a moving light or listening to audio music or tones. Your EMDR therapist will guide your focus on the memories and discuss them with you as a way to explore them and how they impact your beliefs about yourself.

5. Developing more positive beliefs or strengths (Installation)

Through this process clients are asked to check for any new positive beliefs relating to their target memories. Your therapist will then select one of these thoughts and focus on them to build stronger beliefs. They repeat these steps until you have certainty in the belief.

6. Dealing with any physical symptoms caused by your thoughts (Body Scan)

Your therapist will ask you to hold in mind both the target event and a positive belief while mentally scanning through each part of your body, looking for sensations. The Body Scan helps people identify what it feels like when you're feeling happy, compared to stressed out, to help you work on balancing those emotions.

7. Finding closure on past negative memories

At the end of each session your EMDR therapist may use a variety of techniques to orient you fully to the present, to support you to remain stable between sessions. Your therapist will explain that processing may continue after the session through thoughts and feelings, provides instruction for maintaining stability, and asks the client to observe and log noticeable differences or new symptoms.

8. Reevaluating each session to ensure successful processing

At the beginning of your next session, your therapist will assess the effects of the previous session, looking for and targeting residual disturbance, new material which may have emerged, current triggers, anticipated future challenges, and systemic issues. If any residual or new targets are present, then Phases 3 - 8 are repeated until the symptoms are alleviated.

Are You Considering EMDR Therapy?

If you or someone you know is considering EMDR Therapy, it is important to know what to expect. This type of online therapy can be extremely helpful for people who have experienced trauma, but it is not suitable for everyone. 

If you are considering EMDR Therapy, it is important to prepare yourself emotionally for the process. In this article, we have discussed what you can expect during your first session and how to get the most out of this type of therapy. With the proper preparation, EMDR Therapy can be a life-changing experience. 

If you are considering seeking EMDR treatment, we invite you to Submit An Initial Enquiry to let us know about your specific needs and goals and we can let you know how we may be able to help. EMDR Therapy can be an effective tool for healing, with the help of a qualified therapist, you can decide if EMDR Therapy is right for you.


Kerry Howard
Kerry Howard

Kerry Howard is a best-selling author and psychologist specialising in trauma prevention and treatment. Kerry has won two international awards for her commitment to treating PTSD and improving mental health in Australia. In 2021 Kerry won the Excellence in Science and Technology Award for her pioneering work in the delivery of online trauma therapy. Kerry is the pioneer of EMDR Therapy delivered in an online environment. She developed REMDR in 2017 and when the global pandemic hit in 2020, Kerry was at the forefront of training the EMDR world in how to effectively and ethically deliver EMDR Therapy in an online environment. As an EMDR Consultant, Kerry continues to evolve therapeutic delivery by embracing technology. Kerry’s book, ‘The Trouble with Trauma’ provides clear guidance for individuals about how to resolve traumatic experiences for themselves. For more visit: https://thetroublewithtrauma.com https://kerryhoward.com.au