What To Expect After EMDR? 13 Client Insights (2024)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR therapy is an ideal treatment for trauma-induced challenges.

However, EMDR therapy can also help you with mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and other forms of psychological distress.

Keep reading for client insights and what to expect after EMDR treatment.

What To Expect After EMDR Treatment?

  1. Client Goals And Expectations

Expectations run from wanting a magic wand or quick fix to having no expectations at all. Some clients will have specific goals, others just a vague feeling of needing something to change or improve.

“I entered into EMDR treatment with an open mind. I wanted to be able to go to the dentist without fear and had avoided this previously for many years despite bad toothache. 

I hoped it would work… To be honest, I couldn’t see how it would help.

In terms of what I initially wanted from EMDR, my first thought was to feel well again, to live my life again—to be normal and not abnormal. I didn’t know just what to expect.”

  1. Reasons To Choose EMDR Therapy

Working with the client, a therapist may recognize that EMDR could be helpful, or clients themselves may have done some research before deciding on their choice of therapy. 

Many clients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) find EMDR therapy very helpful, however, it’s also very effective for most mental health issues.

Reasons for choosing EMDR include a desire to let go of the rational, logical self to be able to engage at a deeper level. Other clients want to understand and deal with the root cause of problems rather than working on symptom management.

“I am so grateful that my therapist recognized the root cause of my depression and fears was from trauma.

When I initially did some research into EMDR … I didn’t quite get the sense that I might fit into a category that might warrant my experiences worthy of EMDR therapy.

Yet, without EMDR treatment, I feel I would still be rationalizing, thinking things through, aware of how my previous experiences might have shaped me, but never truly moving forward emotionally.”

  1. Taking History And Preparation

Transparently working to  empower the client gives him or her a sense of control and collaboration in the process. The client may not retain all the information provided in sessions, explanations should be clear and simple.

“My therapist explained every step of the way, what we were doing together. She never ever pushed me into anything I didn’t want to do. It was also really useful that she explained it in simple terms.

If I can recall it was described as visiting situations in time that I felt were traumatic, seeing it, feeling it, but always with the reassurance that it was a memory, the past … and therefore being in a safe place in which to explore my feelings around those events.”

What To Expect After EMDR
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  1. Anxious Clients

Preparation may not always fully address a client’s anxiety about desensitization. The stop signal however, gives the client an important sense of control. Equally important are the reassurance and support the therapist provides.

“I suppose it really was basically a fear of the unknown and perhaps a sense of dread re-visiting memories I had done my utmost to avoid for so many years. 

However, I somehow knew that everything I had read about EMDR therapy and what my counselor had told me was the way forward for me. I suppose I was anxious about the process, yet excited about the effect at the same time.”

  1. Experiencing Desensitization

All experiences are unique during desensitization. Clinicians rely on the feedback provided by the client. Clients can still be surprised by the power of EMDR sessions and can experience strong emotions.

Others may be disappointed because it is not what they expected or they may almost feel a sense of anticlimax that it was not as bad as expected.

“My first EMDR therapy session involved quickly revisiting a series of traumatic events from my past. Initially, I felt that my most traumatic moment was in recovery after an operation on my face.

I was able to see, feel, almost relive the emotions that I had at the time … the horror, the uncertainty, the pain, but throughout the session and at the end I was able to look at it objectively and understand it all for what it really was. I cried. 

Probably, the first time I had cried properly in years. …What I hadn’t expected was that it also brought up memories of other events around the same time, which had contributed to this being so traumatic for me.

(It was) liberating, at times terrifying, all consuming much of the time, better than any detective novel, so revealing, exciting, and rewarding.”

  1. Connections And Insights

Revelations or “light bulb” moments can often be seen as clients make connections that have been blocked for months or years. Important insights or unexpected links can occur.

Reassuring the client they’re in a safe place to release old feelings can help make peace with the past.

Processing can continue after the desensitization session and it’s important they are prepared for this and helped with the management of any unexpected reactions.

“It also brought up memories of my younger sister dying, only a year after my operation, which also helped me understand that somehow I felt guilty for feeling angry that she had died, not giving me enough time to deal with my own situation before coming to terms with her untimely death.

Yes, I cried and cried and cried. I was able to feel the grief and the guilt of not grieving “properly” for my mum and sister.

It was also a way of putting things into perspective and spring cleaning my mind. 

I don’t think I’d ever have made that connection myself so EMDR really helped there.”

  1. Moving Forward After Treatment

Witnessing clients moving through the pain to a more adaptive future can be an amazing, emotional experience. Sometimes clients require time to adjust to changes and freedom from old baggage.

“I was also able to forgive myself for that guilt. Further EMDR and counseling sessions really helped me come to terms with all of those issues. I believe that without EMDR, even that very first session there would have still been issues untapped that would still affect me now.

…the best way I can describe how I felt was free! It has also helped me remember the lovely times I shared with my mum and sister, instead of burying those memories away with all the hurt and anguish of the past.”

  1. Therapeutic Relationship

If novice practitioners are wondering if they’re “doing it right” it’s worth remembering the relationship they’re offering to the client is fundamentally healing in many ways.

Working with core conditions and offering a safe place for confronting traumatic events is important work and, without this, no amount of therapy will help.

“At the time when having treatment I was hurting really bad I just wanted to give up (I thought). What I wanted her to do was to give up on me. She never did and I’m glad now.”

  1. Beyond Measure

“It (EMDR Therapy) has helped me beyond measure. I now realize what I was dealing with for the whole of my life and the times when I thought I must be weak or pathetic I was actually courageous and strong.

I just didn’t realize it and neither did anyone else.”

  1. A Blessing

“Thankfully, I was truly blessed to have EMDR, which broke my emotional stalemate, got me in touch with what had really gone on in my past and how it really was affecting me. It touched me deeply.

It reached deep inside, where no other therapy had. I am forever thankful… and lucky I had a wonderful therapist who knew that was exactly what I needed.”

  1. Brought Perspective

“EMDR helped me by making me put things into perspective, I got rid of a lot of garbage from my past, and it made me realize it wasn’t my fault; it was nobody’s. 

It also made me see how much I don’t relax, and how I think of things over and over again, my mind never rests.”

  1. Spring Cleaning Of The Mind

“I would describe it as a spring cleaning of the mind. If I imagine my mind as a huge filing cabinet, EMDR makes you open the drawers one by one, deal with issues by looking at them from a different perspective, helps you to get rid of all the old stuff leaving you with clean, organized drawers.”

  1. Considering EMDR Therapy

“If I knew someone who was considering EMDR, I would tell them that it is like having “A foot in the past and a foot in the present.”

It can be emotionally painful, but I do believe it is the most powerful way I can imagine that can exorcize demons from the past. It gives you a chance to really rid yourself of anguish and pain from your trauma.”

“Feel the fear and do it anyway! The fear you feel will not be the fear that you felt at the time of your trauma….it is a remembered fear and it will help you put your present fears into perspective.

Most importantly, it will help you move forward in your life.”

Related: EMDR Therapy Near Me – A Complete Guide

How Are You Supposed To Feel After EMDR?

EMDR Therapy is an effective treatment for the mental health of many people. Studies show that a significant amount of people see a reduction in PTSD symptoms and mental illness such as hallucinations, depression, and anxiety after being treated with EMDR.

Every session can be different, but during your first EMDR session, expect some talk therapy about your history and treatment plan. It typically can include:

  1. Getting To Know Your Therapist

During the first few minutes, you can feel free to ask them questions about their experience with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

Make sure you feel comfortable with them so you can feel safe talking about distressing memories.

  1. Talking About Your Childhood

Phase 1 of EMDR therapy treatment is the history-taking part. You and your therapist will talk about your childhood, family home, parents, and siblings.

You might also talk about your emotional well-being as a child. Was your overall feeling happy? Sad? Afraid? Alone? This may feel uncomfortable at first and in time, you’ll become accustomed to your therapist and the process.

  1. Discussing Negative Beliefs

In order to prepare an effective treatment plan, your therapist will explore any negative beliefs you’ve accepted as truth. Be open and honest.

Your therapist will help you effectively help you reframe these beliefs.

  1. Sharing 

Be prepared to talk with your therapist about distressing events, issues, situations, feelings, and memories. Your discussion will also include past challenges and present troubles.

In another study, EMDR effectively helped 68% of participants see a reduction in mental health issues like depression symptoms and anxiety disorders.

Generally, it’s common to feel lighter and less weighed down after going through the EMDR process.

The problem that brought you to therapy often feels less significant, and old triggers won’t have their usual effect. You’ll likely find that you are no longer scared or anxious about things that once bothered you.

What Happens The Day After EMDR?

Trying something new and different could produce some anxiety. This is why some clients feel better knowing what to expect.

EMDR Therapy
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The goal of EMDR therapy is to reconcile emotions and, in most cases, thoughts associated with a significant traumatic event.

When EMDR is complete, clients have reported feelings of: 

  • Relief
  • Confidence
  • Self-assuredness regarding the original challenge

When Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing is working well, you’ll feel relieved once completing just a couple of sessions. The traumatic experiences will start to be desensitized and will at least be less emotionally distressing.

However, EMDR opens up memory networks in the brain and you may notice new memories, additional details about your traumatic memories, or dreams after the first session.

This is normal and is the brain’s way of continuing to process the material for more complete healing. The EMDR therapist will make sure you have coping skills and resources to help you deal with anything that comes up after each session, especially the first one.

EMDR is believed to be most effective within a shorter time frame than other therapeutic approaches. In some cases, just one or two sessions (after initial intake) can be enough depending upon what the client is processing.

After EMDR Session Side Effects

Aside from reprocessing traumatic memories and relieving trauma response symptoms, there are a few EMDR therapy side effects to be aware of.

Some people experience:

  • Realistic or vivid dreams
  • Lightheadedness
  • Increased sense of awareness 

These side effects may sound alarming but rest assured that they are completely normal. You would expect to feel some pain or swelling around an injury on your body as it heals — these side effects just indicate that your brain is reprocessing and healing too.

EMDR Changed My Life

Different media outlets make life seem perfect. However, we all go through struggles at one time or another.

For some people, these struggles come and go and don’t result in a traumatic event. Yet, many others experience traumatic events with lasting mental health symptoms.

Here’s how EMDR therapy sessions helped this person who was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) at the age of 19.

“Just yesterday, I found out that my brain has healed so much in such a short time that I no longer have the boogeyman living in it. EMDR literally saved me. My brain works beautifully and better than it has my entire life.

The relief I feel is better than anything I’ve ever experienced.”

Flashbacks After EMDR

Your mind will benefit by taking time after your EMDR sessions to transition back. Many experts recommend taking 30 minutes for EMDR self-care.

Though you can spend more time if you feel you require it. Some people find that a new memory, or a flashback, related to their traumatic event resurfaces after a treatment.

Therapists recommend writing a quick note about it. When you have another session, you can then discuss what had cropped up after your last session.

Fatigue After EMDR

After an EMDR session, a person may feel emotionally sensitive or even physically tired. Many report feeling sensitivity to sound or light.

EMDR Treatment
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Once the session is over many people benefit from finding a quiet, peaceful spot to spend some time in. They often begin by doing breathing exercises.

For those who practice meditation or yoga, this is an excellent time to enjoy a session.

If you feel potentially triggering feelings developing, or want to prevent them from arising, you can use a mindfulness activity.

Feeling Weird After EMDR

At the end of your EMDR therapy session, you can expect to feel differently about the experience.

You may find that you are able to talk about it, should you wish, without experiencing flashbacks, physical sensations or all the negative thoughts and emotions associated with the experience.

These are some experiences you may feel after EMDR treatments:

  • A bit ‘weird’ 
  • Thinking deeply about the experience
  • Have vivid dreams about the experience 
  • Notice yourself feeling more emotional than usual
  • Notice sensations in your body after the first few sessions

All this is perfectly normal as your brain continues to make sense of the experience after each processing session.

These changes reduce over time, and as the sessions go by you’ll begin to notice positive changes in how you’re functioning and in your whole outlook.

Most people say at the end of their EMDR therapy that the traumatic memories become like any other, something that happened but doesn’t continue to have a negative psychological effect.

Depression After EMDR Session

EMDR works similar to the process of removing a splinter stuck in you. You’ll use tweezers to pull it out,, and similarly, if your skin has healed over that splinter, it might be necessary to make a small incision in order to remove that splinter.

There are things from your past, present, and worries about your future that are holding you back from achieving your goals, and those things require removal, like the splinters, before true healing can occur. 

So, EMDR can make things more painful just following a session, especially if you’re working on a new painful splinter. 

What’s important to remember is that this is an important part of the healing process. Even if things get worse for a moment, that moment will not last and you will be better than before.

Your therapist has been trained to give you the support you’ll require and will have taught you skills before beginning the process to manage any new pains that elevate during your first few processings.

Be Careful What You Expect, It Has On Impact How You Feel (Placebo)!

Your mind is a powerful healing tool when given the chance. If you expect a drug will work, your brain can convince your body a false drug is the real thing. Your body will then heal itself. That’s the placebo effect and it’s been around for a very long time.

Now science has found that under the right circumstances, a placebo can be just as effective for traditional treatments.

However, be aware of the nocebo effect, as it works both ways. In some cases, symptoms may worsen instead of improve when receiving a fake drug or any real treatment, if you believe and expect it won’t work.

The mechanisms of the placebo and nocebo effect are believed to be similar, with both involving things like conditioning and expectations.

If you’ve had a past trauma or traumatic memory such as childhood abuse or different mental health disorders, including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, disassociation, reckless behavior consider becoming an EMDR client to break through long held emotional distress.

Then forward this article ✅ to someone you know could be helped with this information. Everyone deserves to live a full life

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.