PLEASE NOTE: Due to a high increase in referrals, we had to unfortunately close our books until further notice. We are not looking to hire other clinicians at this stage.

Sunny Psychology Maroochydore

EMDR Therapy FAQ

This happens to many clients. There are many reasons why we have ‘foggy’, incomplete, or even very little recollection of the past. Sometimes people ‘know’ that an event happened, but they cannot remember the experience. Other times, people report that there is no specific event that they can remember because the same painful experience happened over, and over again (or happened many times throughout long periods of their development).

However, with EMDR Therapy, it is not necessarily important that you cannot remember the specifics of an event. Why? Because EMDR Therapy works around how a memory is encoded (stored).  In many ways, you can even create a scene in your mind that captures an event or a period of your life, and your therapist can work with you to extract the significant material within that scene that you have created. Just as a memory has specific components, a scene that you have created in your mind will also have these components. Any of the components in this scene can be used as a Target for memory processing.

No – In hypnosis, you are guided by a therapist to enter an altered, trance-like ‘hypnotic state’, which is thought to bypass the conscious, analytical mind. This is thought to make a person more open to accepting positive suggestions. Therefore, in Hypnosis, you are encouraged to act or feel differently by the therapist’s ‘use of positive suggestion’ about a pre-determined goal or behaviour.

In contrast, the tasks of EMDR Therapy are driven by what we know about how memories are perceived, stored and retrieved. In an EMDR session, a person does not go into a trance-like state of consciousness, because this would actually be counter-productive to processing a memory. This is why steps are taken by the EMDR Therapist to pre-determine your Window of Tolerance (because memory processing cannot happen if you are not mentally ‘present’).

Therefore, in EMDR, active attempts are made towards repeatedly grounding a person in the present moment, by asking them to remain highly focused on specific things (like eye-movements, physical tapping or other forms of bilateral stimulation), while checking-in with their current feelings and body sensations. In EMDR, the therapist is deliberately doing this to prevent you from drifting away from reality, because memories cannot be processed if you are not consciously present.

In EMDR Therapy, you will be working with your memories until you have processed them, and you remain in control at all times.

The number of sessions depends upon the specific problem and client history. However, repeated controlled studies have shown that a single trauma can be processed within 3 sessions in 80-90% of the participants. Although not every disturbing event needs to be processed, the amount of therapy will depend upon the complexity of the history. In a controlled study, 80% of multiple civilian trauma victims no longer had PTSD after approximately 6 hours of treatment. A study of combat veterans reported that after 12 sessions 77% no longer had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thankfully NO, because this would take a long time. Due to what is known as the ‘Generalization Effect’, often processing an event or memory may also help reduce the disturbance you experience in response to similar memories.

The Generalisation Effect works in the following way – imagine you were going to cut back a huge, thorny rose bush: You could start at the most recent flower and trim the bush backwards to the most recent leaf, then work backwards to the nearest branch (etc…). Alternatively, you could start much lower down, and with one or two ‘snips’ you could remove large sections of the bush because everything stems from the earlier, more established branches. On the other hand, if you wanted to remove the entire bush, you could do so by going directly to the oldest part of the bush (the trunk). However, the thorns from the branches may make that difficult, so (luckily) you have the above options.

Because of the Generalisation Effect, processing memories with EMDR Therapy is similar to the above Rose bush metaphor – you could start at the most recent memory, the earliest memory, or the most painful memory. There are pros / cons to each. However, most of the time, resolving an earlier memory has the biggest flow on effect for all subsequent memories. It is like trimming the rose bush low down at its trunk (all other branches will thus be affected).

Determining where to start is up to you. However, before memory processing can begin, an important phase of treatment involves working with your therapist to formulate a Treatment Plan. This is often written up into a table, which clusters the memories that disturb you and bought you to EMDR Therapy, into ‘Themes’.

The EMDR Treatment Plan orders your experiences related to each Theme in terms of Past Events (Memories related to that theme), Present Triggers (i.e., “Every Time ‘X’ happens, I get triggered”), and Future Templates (What you ultimately would like to achieve as a result of processing memories within that Theme – how you would like to be able to respond to the Present Triggers). This process will help you and your therapist identify which experiences most significantly relate to the Theme in question, and which memories you will likely need to Target.
With EMDR Therapy, you get to decide which Theme you would like to work on and which memories you would like to Target. You may choose to start to work on processing the earliest memory, the most disturbing memory, or a recent memory / trigger. Your therapist can assist you to learn skills to help support you through the memory processing safely so that you can remain within your Window of Tolerance whilst processing a memory/experience.

Thanks to the Generalisation Effect, you do not need to process every experience or memory related to that theme that you have ever had.

As with any form of psychotherapy, there may be a temporary increase in distress.

  1. Distressing and unresolved memories may emerge
  2. Some clients may experience reactions during a treatment session that neither they nor the administrating clinician may have anticipated, including a high level of emotion or physical sensation. A well-trained EMDR therapist is equipped to help you manage and regulate your reaction and bring you back to a state where you feel in control (again).
  3. Subsequent to the treatment session, the processing of incidents/material may continue, and other dreams, memories, feelings, etc., may emerge.

No – EMDR Therapy cannot not get rid of a memory. EMDR Therapy also cannot change that fact that past negative experiences happened to you.

However, EMDR Therapy will change how you feel when you bring a past event or memory to mind. EMDR Therapy specifically targets the components of stuck memories, so that they are moved from your limbic system to your pre-frontal cortex where a person can make better sense of what happened. This then allows adaptive learning and new (positive) information to be integrated.  This leaves a person feeling resolved (vs ‘stuck’) about the corresponding memory and its components.

In other words, after processing a memory with EMDR Therapy, you will still have access to the memory, but it will not cause you any disturbance.

When bringing the memory to mind, you will feel calmer and you will have a more adaptive response to yourself, which may take the form of positive beliefs about yourself, greater self-acceptance, and / or more confidence and self-compassion.

You will still be able to retrieve the memory, but it will not disturb or bother you any longer.

A common question clients have is whether they can simply move their eyes rapidly from left-to-right while thinking of a painful memory to resolve and process that memory themselves. This is not advised (and is potentially unsafe) for several reasons:

Firstly, an EMDR Therapist must undergo a minimum of 50 hours of training comprising of 20 hours of didactic training, 20 hours of skills training and 10 hours of consultation with an EMDRIA/EMDRAA Accredited Consultant. Part of this training encompasses understanding the numerous components of an unprocessed memory and how they interact (images, sounds, smells, bodily sensations and negative views of Self), what decisions to make whilst processing memories (EMDR Therapists do not just ask you to move your eyes back and forward – at each stage of processing, they are actually looking for specific cues from you that the individual components of the memory are being successfully processed, before they move onto the next memory component), and how to determine that a memory has indeed been successfully (and safely) processed.

As you can see, each of these components is complex and cannot be executed by one’s self, on one’s self. Similarly, before memory processing can commence, an extensive history must be taken by the therapist to determine the themes, patterns, and cautions that need to be kept in mind when doing memory processing. These skills require professional objectivity, extensive university training, and clinical experience. You cannot do these things yourself.

Secondly, it is not possible to take one’s self through the steps of memory processing because they are so complex that it would not be possible to fully stay ‘in a memory’ whilst self-monitoring. This means you cannot be processing a memory AND be consciously maintaining awareness of (and fidelity to) the EMDR Treatment Protocol (the decision-making steps based on responses made after each set of eye-movements). In other words, even if you knew what the steps were to processing a memory, you would not actually be sufficiently ‘present’ and engaged in your memory – if you were simultaneously mentally taking yourself through these steps – to derive any benefit from doing any EMDR to yourself. EMDR Therapy may appear simple, but unfortunately, it is not something you can do, yourself.

Third, often processing a memory may bring you to the edge of your Window of Tolerance. An EMDR Therapist is trained to help you recognise the cues that this may be happening, and is trained to work with you to ensure that you can keep processing memories, safely. This is not possible (and may be harmful) if you try to perform EMDR with yourself (or anyone else). You may even cause a negative emotional reaction that you cannot manage, and this could put you (or another person) at risk of re-traumatization, dissociation, or self-harm. If this happens, chances are that is not something that you have skills or training to manage.

Think about it this way – Therapists who know how to do EMDR Therapy very well STILL go and seek the help of an EMDR therapist when they have memories that need to be processed.

More Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR can be found here