Therapists use eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to treat individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related issues. EMDR is a valuable tool for treating all forms of trauma, including those related to substance use disorder (SUD). Bella Monte Recovery Center uses EMDR to help clients process events, feelings, and thoughts that may be inhibiting recovery. EMDR can help you achieve significant emotional relief and remove mental roadblocks caused by traumatic events, stress, and anxiety.

What Happens in the First EMDR Session?

Most people notice a change in how they react to reprocessed memories within only a handful of sessions. To keep the process efficient, your therapist will gather information about you during the first session and answer questions about what to expect from EMDR. The initial session involves the following:

  • Discussing what memories, thoughts, or feelings may be causing distress
  • Making goals for the EMDR treatment
  • Going over what to expect during treatment
  • Choosing a form of bilateral stimulation (BLS)
  • Discussing or practicing mindfulness and grounding techniques

You will learn more about your therapist and how EMDR works during the first session. The goal is to establish expectations and prepare you for EMDR.

What Are the Different Types of Bilateral Stimulation?

Bilateral stimulation is essential to the EMDR process, and there are multiple types to choose from, including audio and visual. Your therapist will review the different options to find which one you feel most comfortable using. According to Frontiers in Psychology, “A distinct characteristic of EMDR therapy is the use of alternating bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tactile, or audio), which appears to produce a physiological effect promoting accelerated reprocessing of dysfunctionally stored information related to the traumatic event.”

The therapist may verbally walk you through the process or give you an example of the different types of bilateral stimulation to familiarize you with the process. Standard forms of bilateral stimulation include:

  • Eye movement challenging using a light bar, wand, or other items the client can visually track
  • Tapping or self-tapping with hands, a paddle, or other items
  • Auditory stimulation using headphones

Traumas are highly personal, and the therapist will collaborate with you to ensure the stimulation does not trigger overwhelming fear, anxiety, cravings, flashbacks, or intensive thoughts that might interfere with the process. The multiple options for bilateral stimulation make it easy to track the stimuli while you work through traumatic thoughts or memories.

Your therapist can enhance the benefits by customizing the type of bilateral stimulation to accommodate your preferences. For example, if you do not like being touched or have difficulty focusing when someone is sitting too close, you can use bilateral audio stimulation. Most people find it helpful to try out each type of stimulation to find what works best for them.

How Does EMDR Feel?

EMDR combines eye movement, verbal cues, or auditory stimulation with mindfulness and experiential techniques to reprocess traumatic and stressful memories. Each session involves going over specific traumas repeatedly to reprocess them. Each time the moment is relived, the negative emotions attached to it will decrease until the memory is fully processed. You may experience emotional stress and discomfort. The therapist will guide you through grounding and mindfulness techniques to keep you present and focused. The physical sensations experienced during and after sessions feel different for everyone. You might experience tingling in your chest and limbs or experience a highly relaxed meditative state.

What Happens During a Session?

A typical session takes around 45 minutes. During that time, the therapist walks you through verbally or mentally reliving the traumatic memories, thoughts, or feelings while simultaneously tracking the bilateral stimulation. Most people experience mild distress and some forms of hyperarousal during the first session. For a short period afterward, people often report feeling a bit strange.

The specific sensations vary from person to person and can feel similar to meditation or mindfulness exercises. You may feel very aware of your body, especially extremities like arms, hands, and fingers. Some individuals feel relaxed and experience a “buzz” or numbness that lasts for a short period and slowly wears off. Usually, these effects stop after several sessions once the mind and body acclimate to the EMDR process.

Is It Difficult to Relive Painful Memories for EMDR Sessions?

Reprocessing pain associated with traumatic memories can be challenging, and some might find the idea frightening. However, taking action and overcoming that fear by successfully going through EMDR therapy is one way to increase self-efficacy and self-confidence. The pain, anxiety, shame, and regret associated with traumatic memories will decrease each time you use EMDR. Some people notice positive changes after the first session. Although it can be difficult to relive memories at first, it becomes easier over time.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a therapeutic tool that can help you process traumatic memories in a way that provides lasting relief from the symptoms of disorders like PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. Using EMDR to treat aspects of substance use disorder and co-occurring conditions can improve your outcome even if you do not have noticeable trauma-related symptoms. The rehabilitation programs at Bella Monte Recovery Center require all clients to undergo trauma therapy, including EMDR sessions. Treating the side effects of underlying traumas can reduce your risk of relapse during continuing care and long-term recovery. EMDR is a part of the personalized holistic care we provide to clients undergoing rehabilitation. You can overcome trauma and regain control of your life using tools like EMDR. To learn more about the services and treatments we offer at Bella Monte Recovery, contact us today by calling (800) 974-1938.