What Exactly Does It Feel Like to Do an EMDR Therapy Session?

24 Dec 2016


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To make this easier for those who have not yet been through a session of EMDR Therapy, let me first explain what typically happens during a session.

Using your eyes you follow a moving light, or in the case of having an outdated therapist or therapy model, you follow their finger back and forth. You do this while mentally focusing on different aspects of your problem and it then changes the way that your brain responds to those problems.


In addition to using your eyes (visual stimulation) EMDR sessions may also feature audio tones or even little hand-held buzzers which vibrate to repeatedly stimulate the left and ride sides (hemispheres) of your brain.

These sessions last anywhere from as little as 15 minutes for an at-home online session like those offered by The Virtual EMDR Eye Movement Therapy Program, to more than an hour with some in-person therapists. 

This process is incredibly effective for treating things like addiction, trauma and PTSD, fears and phobias, grief and loss, and unwanted emotions like depression, anger, and self-esteem issues. EMDR has been studied among many groups of patients, including military veterans and victims of sexual assault. In some studies, more than 70% of subjects no longer demonstrated their symptoms after as few as three sessions of EMDR.

So how does it feel to go through a session? What does it do to your emotional state? How does it make you feel physically?


1) It may feel like you have had a couple of glasses of wine or been electro-shocked, but just for a bit-
Right after an EMDR session, many people report a slight, but passing light headedness or even an electrical crawling sensation in their skin like the hairs are standing up on their arms. It is also common for people to report sort of a vibrating sensation in their chest.

During your session, your brain and central nervous system have been stimulated over and over. It’s no wonder you might feel a bit physically odd.

Don’t worry. It’s totally harmless and goes away in minutes.

2) It may tighten up your chest a bit as those old feelings of longing and hurt well up-
After their session, some people describe the vividness of the thoughts and imagery as being so intense. And the details as being so very specific.

“I could remember the old silver pot that my grandmother made her spaghetti sauce in. I could smell it in the kitchen. And I could see the ashtray where my grandfather had put out his Chesterfield cigarettes. It was all so vivid,” Dave said. “It’s like the EMDR Therapy accessed territory in my brain that no one walked in for a very long time.”

And for some, revisiting those old feelings can also lead to crystal clear dreams of the past.

“My dreams became more intense,” Dave adds. “In fact there was a dream of the house that I grew up in. I could see, feel, and smell things. The feel of mom’s fur coat in the closet on my face. The smell of the basement laundry area. All memories that had been locked on my head, but were un-accessible until EMDR brought them back out. It’s like the EMDR shined a flashlight on some old dark cobweb filled part of my brain that no one had been in for decades.”

3) It may make you feel nail-spitting angry-
EMDR sessions can make you face some uncomfortable and painful truths about yourself and about things that may have happened in your past. Facing reality can be pretty ugly, especially if your past was filled with abuse, the pain of addiction, or if you have been victimized in some way.
Because of this, it is highly possible that you might be pretty pissed off after your session.

But here’s the thing-it’s a good thing that you’re mad! That means the EMDR is reaching those old dusty corners of your brain and shining a healing light on all that darkness.

The anger (and rage) will pass. And it helps to call a trusted friend and tell them how you’re feeling.

“I used to always call my brother after my sessions,” Heather said thinking back to her EMDR experience. “I would share with him my session revelations and newly rediscovered memories from my childhood. It was great because he would confirm what I said by remembering the same things from growing up.”

4) You may feel quite sad and cry-
EMDR can also feel kind of bad, and you might shed some tears after your sessions.

Again, this is a good thing because it means you are processing old memories and putting the past into a healthier perspective.

Tears will pass, but the health you get from a series of EMDR sessions will help you for a lifetime.

5) You’ll feel “hollow” afterwards-
You know the feeling. Like longing after a break up. Or how you feel after you’ve been crying all day and feel like a shell. But again don’t worry about it, it will pass quickly and is part of the healing process.
Let’s be clear about something. Not every one of these things will happen after every sessions. Instead think of this as more the range of possibilities.

The EMDR experience will be different for different people and your experience may vary from session to session. And the EMDR session experience will also be different if you choose to see and in-person EMDR therapist who uses an old-fashioned, out-of-date EMDR session where the therapist moves their finger back and forth versus if you choose online sessions at home using a step-by-step self-administered EMDR therapy program like Virtual EMDR.

​You may walk away from some sessions feeling like you just wasted your time. Other sessions will be break through and make you feel like you’ve changed something about your life forever.

6) And last…You’ll “feel” better-
You won’t necessarily feel this as a side effect of a session or a physical feeling. But the great thing about EMDR Therapy is that it works. And it works quickly in as a few as three sessions.
Whatever the problematic issue is that brought you into EMDR, you get better and you’ll feel great when it’s out of your life.


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