What Are You Supposed to Think About in EMDR?

People curious about EMDR therapy are often uncertain about what to expect and nervous about the prospect of exploring traumatic memories. It’s reasonable. Trauma goes hand-in-hand with anxiety, and when your wounds run deep, it can be difficult to imagine a world in which they can be healed.

In this post, we’ll explore EMDR therapy from the client’s perspective. One of the best ways to dispel anxiety is to turn uncertainty into acceptance and danger into safety. Having a bit of knowledge about the process can go a long way on both fronts.

Consider Your Goals

EMDR therapy is a goal-oriented, results-driven form of therapy. As a result, it’s important for you to have a sense of what you hope to accomplish. These could be specific issues such as social anxiety or particular phobias, or it could be related to problematic behaviors such as drug abuse or emotional dysregulation.

Having a sense of specific issues in your life that you’re hoping to resolve with EMDR therapy can help your therapist guide you through your beliefs and memories so that you can better understand them.

Following the Thread

Once you have a sense of what you hope to accomplish with EMDR therapy, you can work hand-in-hand with your therapist to trace those problematic thoughts or behaviors to any traumatic memories you may associate with them. While this process starts with identifying target memories, it extends throughout the process.

During an EMDR session you may find yourself making connections between various memories and thought patterns you might not normally connect. This is a natural part of the healing process. Feel free to go with the flow and describe these connections and associations to your therapist as they occur to you.

woman of color in a bright orange shirt smiling at the camera with a bright blue brick background behind herPhysical Sensations

As you explore your thoughts and memories with your therapist, you may notice physical sensations that go hand-in-hand with them. Increased heart rate, nausea, dizziness or shortness of breath. All of these sensations are perfectly natural.

Our bodies store traumatic memories differently, and those memories are often associated closely with our physical senses. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and even textures, can all trigger those memories without you realizing it—and as you explore those memories, you may run into those sensations all over again.

Emotional Distress

Similarly to the physical sensations you may feel, it’s very likely that as you explore prior traumatic experiences you will feel a swell of emotional responses as well. These feelings are natural. You can let yourself go and be in the moment. If you feel the need to cry, let yourself cry; if you feel anxious or angry or upset, give those feelings a voice.

Your therapist will likely check in periodically to see how you’re feeling. If you feel like you’re not able to push forward, you can always call for a pause or a break to let yourself get centered.

Integration and Healing

Ultimately, the goal of EMDR therapy is healing. EMDR relies on scientific methods like bilateral stimulation to allow us to access our traumatic memories with greater clarity and recall. However, it’s our ability to process these memories safely that allows us to heal. It’s important to remind yourself that you’re in a safe, supportive environment during EMDR therapy.

Our traumatic memories are like ghosts with unfinished business. They stay with us to remind us of a scary, dangerous experience, or as a result of uncertainty in our lives. While those lessons are important, for many of us there comes a time when they’re holding us back instead of helping us to move forward.

Schedule a Consultation

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re interested in learning more about how EMDR therapy can help you.