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How to use EMDR to treat Coronavirus Anxiety (COVID-19)

Updated: May 23, 2020

There have been a lot of inquiries and questions about how to best respond to coronavirus anxiety with EMDR. The information from EMDRIA and from the humanitarian assistance program (HAP) is that EMD (restricted processing) is the way to go.

EMD stands for Eye Movement Desensitization, without the R (Reprocessing). EMD is restricted processing that is used to desensitize an emotionally charged memory or feeling.

EMD differs from EMDR because, with EMD, we are restricting the processing by continuously bringing the client back to target and assessing the SUD (subjective units of disturbance) after each set of bilateral stimulation (BLS). Bilateral stimulation is also referred to as DAS (Dual Attention Stimulus).

It is important, when using EMD, to still go through phases 1 (history taking) and 2 (resourcing), as you would with any other EMDR target assessment setup. As an EMDR therapist, you want to assess how the client's anxiety is impacting their day-to-day functioning. You also want to establish resources for the client. This may include: the container, a calm place, breath work, and any type of resource that helps the client feel grounded and safe.

After history taking and resourcing is established, you can proceed to phase 3 of EMD: target assessment. The target assessment for EMD varies a bit from EMDR. With EMD, you are not incorporating the affective and somatic elements into the target assessment. This is because we do not want to activate older traumas. Rather, we want to stay present with the current anxiety and desensitize as much as possible.

How to use EMD

1. Choose a target memory (or in this case, a present day stressor, i.e. coronavirus)

2. What is an image that represents the worst part?

3. When you think of that image, what negative belief do you have about yourself now? (NC)

4. What would you rather believe about yourself now? (PC)

5. When you bring up the image and the negative belief about yourself (NC), how disturbing does it feel to you right now (SUD) on a scale from 0-10?

As the EMDR therapist, you're then going to proceed with the bilateral movements. If you're doing EMDR virtually, you can decide which method of bilateral is going to be best for your client. The butterfly hug seems to be the method that most clients like best, but everyone is different.

After each set of BLS/DAS, you're going to go back to target and check the SUD. This is different from the usual EMDR standard protocol, because we are restricting the processing and not allowing the neural networks to go down any channels of association. We are trying to desensitize the current stressor without engaging in any reprocessing.

As we treat clients struggling with coronavirus anxiety, we want to help with grounding and staying present as much as possible. This is a challenging time for all of us, but thankfully, we are all in this together.


About the Author

Dana Carretta-Stein is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and founder of Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling, PLLC, and Carretta Consulting in Scarsdale, NY.  She specializes in clinical psychotherapy to treat children, adolescents and adults with anxiety, behavior and trauma difficulties.

Dana is a certified EMDR therapist, consultant in training, and Regional Coordinator of the Westchester EMDR Regional Network.

Dana is also a business coach for wellness practitioners who are looking to build and grow their private practice.

For more information, visit



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