THE PREPARATION PHASE OF EMDR THERAPY
If you want, you can learn how to prepare for your EMDR therapy.
In EMDR therapy, you will process some memories that affect your day to day life. These memories were not stored properly in your brain. This “storage issue” happens because some things that happened to you were not processed at the time of the event. But before you can start processing your memories, you will have to learn to prepare for EMDR.
Due to the disturbing nature of these memories, it helps to know how to immediately establish safety, calmness, and ownership over yourself and the process.
If preparation is ignored, EMDR therapy may lead to negative outcomes (a fancy way of saying: things can get worse).
It is important that you feel safe. EMDR involves intentional activation of the nervous system. For some clients, this might bring terror or flashbacks, for instance, so therapists first guide the clients in mastering ways to calm down the nervous system in case they need it. Feeling in control helps the process go better.
You also want to begin EMDR therapy in a neutral, calm state of mind. In that way, you can really observe what is happening in your mind and notice sensations in your body without becoming overwhelmed by intense memories or emotions.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO PREPARE FOR YOUR EMDR THERAPY IN ADVANCE
You are not required to do any preparation work by yourself before you start your EMDR therapy. There are no prerequisites and your therapist will help to prepare you for your EMDR work. One of the early stages of EMDR is the preparation phase and your EMDR therapist should make sure you are ready before you start processing.
As I mentioned, in the preparation phase, you will learn specific skills that will help you calm and balance your nervous system. You will use these new skills, for instance, the Safe Place or Container exercises, during your therapy session or between sessions, as needed.
You will work with your therapist to master these techniques until you feel confident in your ability to use them. Remember that it’s okay to tell your therapist whenever you need to take a break at any time! If you experience intense emotions or memories, use the calming exercises as you need to, to help balance your nervous system.
WANT TO BE PROACTIVE? HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO BEFORE STARTING YOUR EMDR THERAPY
Although this is not required, I find that clients who meditate are more prepared to start their EMDR work. Meditation improves the ability to become an observer. When you meditate, you learn to observe your thoughts for what they are – just thoughts. You learn to look at your thoughts and feelings without assigning any meaning to them.
Meditators are strongly familiar with the experience of observing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings with acceptance. They do it every day.
In EMDR we do something similar – we observe whatever comes up, without getting attached to the content. We’re just looking at it.
So if you want to be proactive about your preparation – go ahead and start meditating. Meditation will improve your skills of seeing things as they are, without distortion.
By the time you’re done with your EMDR therapy – this skill – seeing things without distortion – will become your way of viewing the world. What happened in the past will stop affecting your day-to-day life. Those memories will shift and become a part of your past, a simple fact, a story that happened to you.
Rotem Brayer is a certified EMDR therapist and an EMDR consultant in training practicing in Denver, Colorado. He divides his time between helping refugees to improve their mental health and maintaining a private practice.