Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

 “I want EMDR. My cousin and a lady in my Bible study group said they had it and it worked quickly.”  Here at A Chance to Change we are receiving more requests for sessions with clinicians who utilize body-based therapies that engage the five senses. EMDR may be the best known.

What can you expect from an EMDR session?

1.       To NOT tell the therapist the details of the events you wish to resolve. This is to keep you safe.

2.       Focus on one event at a time - perhaps an automobile accident.

3.       You will be asked to imagine an internal calm place.

4.       Questions to help focus the session. “What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of this accident? Do you hear any sounds when you see this image? Smells come to mind? Tastes in your mouth? Sense of touch? Do you have any physical sensations in your body when you think of this event now?  What emotions can you identify right now when you think of this event?”

5.       You will then be asked to rate the intensity of the emotions, physical sensations between 0-10, with 0 being neutral of no intensity and 10 being the highest you can imagine. 

6.       At least one negative belief will be identified. “If I were not such an idiot I would never have had the accident.” That belief will be rated between 1 (totally false) to 7 (totally true)

7.       A positive belief that you would rather have about yourself will also be identified. “I can learn from this.” It too will be rated between 1 and 7.

8.       The next step is to imagine that you are watching the event on a small black and white television or that you are a passenger in a car and watch this event happen as you pass by.

The purpose of this is step is to have emotional distance from the event as you process it in your mind and body. Reliving the event by re-feeling the full extent of the emotions and physical sensations that you had at the time of the event actually slows the healing process.

9.       As you “watch” the event, some type of bi-lateral stimulation will occur (defined in bullet 10). The purpose of the bi-lateral stimulation is to activate the right and left side of your brain to assist your brain/body to finish processing the distressing event.  I like to think of this process as a small creek with a beaver dam across it. The bi-lateral stimulation removes the beaver dam so the water can flow freely again.

10.    The bi-lateral stimulation may be done in several ways. The therapist may use fingers or have a wand for you to follow with your eyes, some tappers to hold in your hands with an alternating pulse, heads phones with a tone that alternates between the ears, or some combination. You may be asked to alternately tap your thighs or cross your arms, giving yourself a hug, while tapping your shoulders alternately. The bi-lateral stimulation will be in sets, while you silently review the event internally. questions to keep the session focused on the healing process, the clinician will periodically stop the bi-lateral stimulation to ask. The clinician may also ask you to periodically visit the calm place you designed at the beginning of the session to give your mind and body a rest.

11.    The processing is complete when all distress is at zero or neutral. The negative belief is totally false and the positive event is totally true.

The biggest difference in sessions where the therapist utilizes body-based therapies, such as EMDR, is less talking by the therapist while you silently resolve the distress you are feeling. An event is considered resolved when you can talk about it and remember the event, if you wish, without distress. The goal is to integrate the event with all of your life experiences.


Possible benefits of body-based therapies such as EMDR: comparable outcomes to cognitive based therapies in fewer sessions. Possible risks: it is possible to experience rapid change for which you are not prepared; there can be some distress between sessions as your body/brain continue to release emotions and physical sensations; family and friends may be unprepared for the changes you make.

For more information on EMDR and the 30 years of research go to: www.emdria.org

Blog provided by Rita Crockett MBA, LPC, LADC