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  • Writer's pictureSara Thane Milam, LCSW

Four Things to Know Before Starting EMDR Therapy


A woman in a red shirt with her arms crossed over her chest, alternately tapping her hands on her shoulders


1. You'll spend several sessions preparing before you start processing.


Don’t expect to dive right in. Before you even start processing the memory with bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones) you’ll spend at least 2-3 sessions preparing. Your therapist will teach you grounding and relaxation techniques and you’ll make a written processing plan, which is basically a list of which memories you want to work on. While you may want to start processing ASAP these preparatory sessions are important. They will help you better tolerate the work ahead and allow you to proceed through processing in a methodical way.


2. It’s common to feel worse before you feel better.


In order to desensitize and reprocess a distressing memory with EMDR we have to intentionally activate that memory. That means your therapist will ask you to bring up a visual of the memory in your mind and focus on your related beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations. In short, it can be pretty intense. Given that we are intentionally focusing on a memory that you’ve probably tried hard not to think about, you might feel more raw or experience a temporary increase in symptoms after your first couple processing sessions. If this happens to you, don’t panic! This is a common reaction and your heightened symptoms typically subside as you continue to work through processing the memory.


3. The number of sessions EMDR takes varies widely. 


Depending on your history, coping style, your relationship with your therapist, and what you are processing with EMDR, EMDR could take anywhere from about six sessions to several months to complete. It can be hard to predict how long it will take until you start processing. For more information about the factors influence how long EMDR takes, check out my previous post on the subject.


4. EMDR isn’t a good fit for everyone, and that’s ok! 


As an EMDR Certified Therapist and someone who has done EMDR with my own therapist, I believe in it’s power. However, as with any type of therapy EMDR is not going to work well for every person or every presenting problem. Many people experience a dramatic reduction in anxiety and PTSD symptoms after EMDR therapy. Others don’t notice much of an improvement. It can be hard to anticipate how effective it will be for you, so you may just have to try it and see how it goes. You can always switch to a different type of therapy if you don’t like it or it doesn’t work well for you. If you don’t like EMDR or don’t feel like it’s working, talk to your therapist. They can help troubleshoot or recommend an alternative treatment. 


For more information about EMDR therapy, check out this two-part article from the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA):



Interested in trying EMDR?  Check out this directory of EMDR therapists or book a free,15-minute consultation with me to see if we are a good fit. I am an EMDR Certified Therapist (EMDRIA) and provide EMDR online and in my office in Brentwood, TN. 



This blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.


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