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4 Things to expect when starting EMDR Therapy

Updated: May 25, 2022

This is to those who are having thoughts about starting EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, just signed on with a therapist for EMDR, or just want to learn more about EMDR.

As a reminder, just like any other therapy, your treatment should be tailored to your individual needs and goals. Your experience is unique, but here are 4 things you can expect when starting EMDR therapy.

1.Yes, EMDR is a "faster paced" therapeutic approach- but it isn't as simple as 1,2,3.

EMDR is an 8 Phase treatment. Typically people associate EMDR with Phase 4 (or Reprocessing), but there is so much more to it than just eye movements. (Click here to read more about the 8 Phases of EMDR) Rushing through the history taking and preparation phases can cause looping or blocking in the reprocessing phase.
  • Looping is when processing is stalled and an individual keeps circling around the same maladaptive information, and is unable to access adaptive information throughout the processing.

  • Blocking is when a negative belief that is preventing the traumatic memory from resolving to a SUD (Subjective Units of Disturbance) of zero.

Depending on the symptoms you are experiencing related to your traumatic experience, you may benefit from spending more time in the preparation phase. For example, those who experience dissociation, those who have C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), those who experience difficulty trusting others (history of attachment trauma), or those who have a smaller window of tolerance.

Your therapist may integrate other therapeutic modalities such as Polyvagal exercises, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills, Meditation or Mindfulness practices.

2. There may be moments where it feels worse, or more uncomfortable

The first phase of EMDR (also known as the History Taking phase) may be triggering for some clients. It requires a lot of trust in order to become vulnerable and share things we may have never shared with another person. Some of the history taking questions may create awareness to unresolved pain that has been contained and stored away for years.

During Phases 3 and 4 (Assessment and Desensitization), your therapist will guide you to bring to mind an image that represents the worst part of your target memory, noticing the emotions, physical sensations, and beliefs that are representative of your traumatic memory. Accessing the memory in this way may bring to surface feelings of discomfort. The end goal is to reduce the level of disturbance that the memory holds, but it typically takes more than one session to fully clear out a target memory.

Accessing your tools and coping skills acquired during Phase 2 of EMDR is going to be helpful in managing the increased symptoms and distress related to trauma work.

Healing is not linear. There will be moments when healing feels good, and moments when healing feels painful. It is a normal part of the process when working through trauma.

3. This approach isn't just about your thoughts and emotions

EMDR is different than most forms of therapy for many different reasons. One of the differences you will notice is that your therapist will not only get curious about how your trauma impacts your thoughts and emotions, but also- how is your trauma showing up in your body.

If you experience dissociative symptoms such as numbness or disconnect from your body, you and your therapist will work on skills during Phase 2 to help access and reconnect with your felt sense. Mindfulness practices and other grounding techniques will help strengthen your ability to tolerate somatic sensations (both good and bad).

4. The changes you'll experience are not limited to just in session

You can expect to experience the reprocessing to continue after your session. This may show up in dreams, new thoughts, new insights, emotional shifts and more. This is a normal part of the reprocessing experience in EMDR.

To keep track of your own progress, you can purchase your own Journal Here: EMDR Therapy Progress Journal. Available in paperback, hardcover and E-Book.

It's important to track progress both in and out of session. Noticing any residual triggers, images, emotions, thoughts, or sensations will help you and your therapist as you work through the final phases of EMDR.

When finding the right therapy for you, it is important to do some research and learn a little bit more on what to expect before starting. EMDR therapy is different for everyone, as we know but it IS a wonderful tool and life changing process to help you on your healing journey.


Annabella Lipson is a Mental Health Counselor at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling.

She enjoys working with young adults & adults who are dealing with stress, anxiety, grief, PTSD and other challenges.

Annabella incorporates a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), EMDR Therapy, Ego-state Interventions and Mindfulness practices with her clients.


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