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  • Writer's pictureJessica Matthews LCSW, LICSW

EMDR Frequently Asked Questions

How is EMDR different from talking about my trauma in cognitive modalities or “talk therapy”?

In cognitive modalities, or talk therapy, oftentimes people can speak about their trauma from a very intellectualized, detached, even dissociated perspective. In this way, there is enough distance from the memory that you are not fully processing the information. Oftentimes during therapies like CBT- and I don’t mean to discount CBT because it does have its place, and there are cognitive components in EMDR- clients report experiencing insights at an intellectual level, but not feeling them at a gut level.

For example, a client might say “I know intellectually that my trauma wasn’t my fault, but I still feel like it is.” EMDR is different, because it allows you to feel the insights at an emotional gut level, not just a cerebral intellectual level. You can truly understand and believe in your gut the positive cognitions that you identify cognitively.


Why haven’t I started re-processing yet with my EMDR clinician?

Because EMDR is such an intense type of therapy, there are preparation steps that need to be completed before re-processing can begin. There are 8 stages to EMDR. The first stages are history taking, assessment, and resourcing, which is developing coping skills that will help you better tolerate the re-processing. If you haven’t started re-processing yet and are wondering why, you should speak to your clinician, however likely your clinician doesn’t think you’re ready to move on to the next stages of the EMDR process and wants to fully prepare you.


Why doesn’t my therapist respond much when I share traumatic details during EMDR-reprocessing? The EMDR protocol says we need to “stay out of the way” of your brain’s processing, because the idea behind EMDR is that your brain has a natural way of healing itself through bilateral stimulation. If you are feeling like you don’t receive enough support and validating during EMDR, it may be helpful to request time at the end of each session to debrief on the insights and emotions that arise.


Why am I getting so triggered during EMDR and between sessions? Your brain needs to witness and process memories that are “stuck” in your nervous system in order to move to adaptive resolution and ultimately help you to feel better. That is why there is a certain level of discomfort that is necessary for EMDR to be effective- you need to experience the emotions and body sensations and memories that are “stuck” and get them moving through your nervous system. That said, a trained clinician should make sure you are within your window of tolerance during re-processing, so that you are remembering the trauma, but not fully re-experiencing it. Your clinician should have the skills to direct you if you get overly fused with the memory. EMDR can be uncomfortable, but it should NOT be re-traumatizing.


What other questions do you have about EMDR? Let me know below!



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