If you have been referred for EMDR therapy, you might be wondering, “How long does EMDR therapy take?”
I’ve been offering EMDR therapy since the year 2000, and I ‘ve worked with hundreds of clients for whom EMDR was either part of their psychotherapeutic treatment, or it was the only approach we used.
The duration of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy varies widely from person to person and depends on several factors. These factors include include:
- The nature and severity of the trauma or issue you want to address
- The level of support and stability you have in your life
- What you do outside of therapy sessions to support your growth, balance and healing
- Your readiness and willingness to engage in the therapy process
- Your therapist’s approach, experience level and expertise
How Long Does EMDR Therapy Take?
Here are some of my thoughts about EMDR treatment to consider:
The total number of sessions varies widely. EMDR therapy typically consists of a series of sessions. The exact number of sessions usually ranges from a few to several dozen. But please be aware, some people have a the impression that it’s a magic quick fix. It’s not.
Over the years, I’ve been struck by the number of people who believe that EMDR is like popping some sort of magic pill. When I’ve asked my EMDR patients about this, they shared with me that they got this impression from two sources. First, there is a certain amount of sensationalistic and inaccurate reporting in the media. Second, anyone who practices EMDR therapy will tell you that we have occasional “super responders”. These are people that have remarkably rapid and complete results. It’s not that common, but it does indeed happen.
How Complex is Your Trauma? The complexity of the trauma you have experienced and the number of issues being addressed will both influence the length of therapy. Simple, single-incident traumas may require fewer sessions, while more complex or long-standing issues may take longer to process.
How Long EMDR Therapy Takes May Depend On You
Client progress in EMDR therapy varies from person to person. Some individuals experience great relief and resolution of their symptoms in a relatively short time. Others may require more sessions to achieve their treatment goals.
Session frequency matters. EMDR therapy sessions are typically scheduled on a weekly basis. Most trauma experts will do longer sessions and won’t work with someone who is not in weekly therapy. This is because most people can’t get very much traction in their treatment if they are not in weekly therapy. But this can vary depending on the therapist’s recommendation and the client’s needs.
The preparation phase of EMDR also matters. EMDR therapy begins with a preparation phase, during which the therapist assesses the client’s history, establishes rapport, and helps you develop coping skills and resources. This phase can take a few sessions before the actual EMDR trauma processing begins.
One part of EMDR treatment is call the “Processing Phase”. This is often considered to be the core of EMDR therapy. It involves processing traumatic memories or distressing experiences. This phase of EMDR may involve reprocessing multiple memories, and the number of sessions required for this phase varies. So, you can see that if you have been through a lot of pain and trauma in your life, you will need to do quite a bit of processing of those memories.
Two Very Different Examples of EMDR Therapy Length
Here are two examples of clients that I treated using EMDR:
First, let’s talk about Greg. He came to see after suffering what we refer to as “a single incident trauma”. Up until the age of 40, he had lived a very fortunate life. He was born into a warm loving family. His long term partner and he had a safe, supportive stable relationship. No one in his family had any drug or alcohol problems. Up until then, Greg never had any mental health issues. In short, Greg had lived a great life and had navigated life’s challenges well. But then one day, completely out of the blue, something horrible happened.
As Greg was stepping out of his home, a vagrant stabbed him and ran. Thankfully, a witness immediately called 911. The paramedics rushed to the scene. Arriving within minutes, they saved his life.
Greg’s good fortune returned and when he began EMDR therapy, he turned out to be a super-responder. His first session brought immense relief. Within a few EMDR sessions, most of his symptoms began to abate. His sleep normalized as his nightmares stopped. The anxiety and fear he felt when he walked down his street vanished. His ability to concentrate at work returned to the level it had been previously. His workday flowed as it was no longer interrupted by intrusive thoughts, feelings and images about the attack. We worked together for about 15 sessions before he went on his merry way.
At the other end of the spectrum lies Brandon. Brandon was referred to me by another therapist. Although he loved working with her, and felt really connected to her, the reality was that he was deteriorating. His panic attacks were growing more frequent and more intense. Brandon told me on the phone that he was feeling desperate and felt like he was “at the end of his rope”.
Just arriving at my office required enormous strength and bravery. Gripped with fear, he could not sit in the waiting room. Instead, he paced in the hallway. Soon, I learned that Brandon was dealing with a situation much more complicated than standard “panic disorder”. I gathered his history and learned that he had been born into an absolutely ghastly circumstance. Born to a schizophrenic single mother, he spent most of his young life in terror. Lost in the depths of hallucinations and delusions, she tortured him physically and psychologically. Because what he lived though was so awful, I won’t go into further details.
However, I will sum it up by saying that Brandon is an example of what we refer to as “complex trauma”. Complex PTSD can be the result when a person survives multiple traumatic events or has spent time in an enduring traumatic condition. This man was not suffering from the impact of one haunting incident. Instead, he had grown up in the presence of someone who hurt and endangered him daily. Obviously, untangling the roots of his panic was going to take longer.
In fact EMDR treatment did take longer. We worked together for about 4 years in total, and about 1 year of that was using EMDR exclusively. Because Brandon was one of the most dedicated, conscientious and motivated clients I have ever worked with, he requested hours of “therapy homework” which he completed outside of our sessions. His panic attacks ended, and a host of other trauma symptoms completely remitted. By the time we said goodbye, he was in great shape.
So, whether you have survived on terrible event, or lived through years of horror. I want you to know that I’ve seen even people with extreme trauma symptoms can get better. It just takes work, time, quality treatment and commitment.
Ask Yourself These 7 Questions
If you are wondering how long EMDR therapy will take you, ask yourself the following:
- Am I seeking treatment for 1 traumatic incident, or is my suffering the result of a long term or recurring situation?
- How early in life did these traumas happen to me?
- Do I have current stressful situations which tax me?
- Do I self medicate or misuse alcohol and drugs?
- How much support do I have in my life?
- Do I deal with depression or anxiety?
- When it comes to doing the work of therapy, how motivated am I?
- Am I willing to things outside of therapy to aid my healing and self growth?
These question, plus the feedback/recommendations your EMDR therapist give you will help you know what you can expect.
It’s important to note that EMDR therapy is commonly referred to as a time-limited therapy approach, with a focus on symptom reduction and resolution of specific issues. The goal is to help you process and resolve traumatic memories or distressing experiences so they no longer have a debilitating impact on your life.
As your EMDR therapist, I will work with you to develop a treatment plan and provide an estimate of the expected duration based on your unique circumstances. The length of therapy can be flexible and may be adjusted as needed to ensure you achieve your treatment goals.
If you want to learn more about EMDR treatment, please be sure to have a good look around my site.