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How do I prepare for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy?

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Preparing for EMDR therapy is an important step to make the most of your sessions and ensure a safe, effective therapeutic process. Integrative trauma informed EMDR is a specialized form of psychotherapy used to treat trauma and related conditions. Integrative therapy refers to the use of other therapy approaches (i.e. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing, Narrative Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)alongside EMDR. Here are some steps to help you prepare for EMDR therapy.

1. Find a Qualified EMDR Therapist

Ensure that you choose a registered clinical counsellor, social worker or a psychologist that is either a Certified EMDR therapist or has received basic EMDR training approved by the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA). You can learn more about counselling designations within BC and the levels of EMDR training and certification here.

2. Consultation and an Initial Assessment

At Mental Blocks EMDR Therapy, we offer a complimentary consultation in order for you to ask any questions about EMDR and for you to determine whether our services are a good fit. During your consultation, your therapist will begin to establish a positive, safe therapeutic relationship with you as this is vital for the success of EMDR treatment.

The first session with your EMDR therapist will typically entail an assessment aimed at gathering information about your history, trauma related issues, current concerns and symptoms. These symptoms could include:

  • Feeling sad or down

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate

  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt

  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows

  • Withdrawal from friends and activities

  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping

  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations

  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress

  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people

  • Problems with substance use

  • Major changes in eating habits

  • Sex drive changes

  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence

  • Suicidal thinking

  • unexplained physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, etc.

Be open about any traumatic experiences or symptoms you are experiencing, such as flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, relationship challenges or distress. This assessment helps the therapist understand your unique experiences and determine whether EMDR is an appropriate and safe treatment option. This time will also be used to discuss your goals for therapy and plan how to achieve them collaboratively.

3. Learn About EMDR

Familiarize yourself with the basics of EMDR therapy. Your therapist will explain the process, but having some understanding beforehand can help ease anxiety. You can find introductory resources online, through books and through our website page here. We also recommend reading the founder of EMDR, Dr Francine Shapiro's book Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy

4. Set Clear Goals

Identify specific, current challenges or symptoms that you want to target in EMDR therapy. It is helpful to be clear about what you hope to achieve and communicate these goals to your therapist. If you need any help with this, we welcome any questions as we work collaboratively to develop a plan of action.

5. Discuss Any Concerns

If you have concerns or fears about EMDR therapy, such as the intensity of emotions or potential retraumatization, discuss them openly with your therapist. Your therapist will do their best to address your concerns and provide empathy, optimism and reassurance.

6. Provide Relevant Information

Be prepared to share relevant information about your medical and mental health history, including any previous trauma, diagnoses, medications and treatment history.

7. Prepare for Emotional Intensity

Understand that EMDR therapy can evoke strong emotions, vivid memories, and physical sensations. Be prepared to face and process these experiences with the guidance of your therapist.

8. Grounding Techniques

Together, you and your therapist will build on your current coping/grounding techniques and and supplement these as well. These tools will be used if you become overwhelmed during and in between EMDR sessions. These techniques can help you stay connected to the present moment and reduce distress.

7. Self-Care Plan

Develop a self-care plan with your therapist that is aimed at supporting yourself outside of therapy sessions. This may include relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, exercise, improved sleep and eating habits and activities that bring you happiness and peace.

8. Consistency and Commitment

Commit to attending your EMDR therapy sessions regularly. Consistency is crucial for the effectiveness of the therapy.

9. Medications and Substance Use

Inform your therapist about any medications you are taking or any substance use. These factors can impact your therapy and the processing of traumatic memories.

10. Create a Safe Environment

Ensure that you have a safe, comfortable environment where you can process your emotions, thoughts and body sensations after EMDR sessions. Have a support system in place, including loving friends, family or a support group to talk to as you need.

11. Journaling

Consider keeping a journal to track your thoughts, feelings, dreams, memories, current triggers, negative beliefs and experiences before and after EMDR sessions. This can help you monitor your progress and identify patterns.

Remember that EMDR therapy is a structured, intentional 8 phase process that has proven effective for the treatment of trauma. Trust in the process, collaborate closely with your therapist and be patient with yourself as you work through your traumatic experiences to seek healing, resolution and peace. If you have any questions at all about the EMDR process, please do not hesitate to ask. If you have any questions, please feel free to email Sally-Anne here.

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