Updated: Aug 18, 2022
written by Molly Pike, MA, LPC, EMDR Certified, Consultant-in-Training
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a highly effective form of trauma treatment that has endless applications. You do not have to have a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to benefit from EMDR. My clients seek out EMDR therapy because they have symptoms of anxiety, depression, or relationship patterns that they find puzzling, painful, or perhaps incongruent with other areas of their life.
When we begin the process of EMDR together, we explore what you are experiencing present day. My role is to help guide you in identifying which past experiences may be contributing to what feels presently stuck or distressing. Then, by utilizing bilateral stimulation techniques, such as back and forth eye movement, alternating vibrating buzzers, or tapping, we process these memories together by targeting the way the memory is stored in your nervous system—through your senses, thoughts/beliefs, emotions, and body sensations.
Just as trimming the top of a dandelion is only temporarily beneficial to the health of your yard’s landscape, so too can less effective modalities be in addressing your symptoms. We want to identify and address the root of the issue. When approaching the present issue from this angle, the effects on your emotional health can be tremendous. EMDR is highly effective, and although it can have a reputation to be magic, it is not unicorns and rainbows, nor is it “microwave healing.” However, this evidence-based practice addresses symptoms and patterns in a more targeted way, bringing down disturbances, and producing many positive ripple effects.
If you can dedicate the same amount of time and energy to address the root of your current challenges and behavioral patterns in a single day rather than over the course of time through weekly sessions, an EMDR Intensive may be worth it for you.
WHAT EXACTLY IS AN EMDR INTENSIVE?
EMDR Intensives or Retreats are a more condensed version of EMDR therapy and can be offered in a variety of formats. Some therapists offer these services in one-day, three-day, or even five-day formats. Currently I offer EMDR intensives in the form of a one-day session from 9am-3pm-- with breaks, of course. While you may find Intensives offered all over the world, I am licensed to work only with clients who are present in the state of Colorado, either in-person in Denver or online from anywhere else in the state.
When I work with clients on a weekly or biweekly basis, which is the traditional model of EMDR therapy, I acknowledge that the work of opening up and closing down trauma processing in successive sessions can be a lot to manage, depending on a client’s life circumstances. But it’s not a bad thing. In fact, there are definite advantages to addressing trauma through this model of therapy and frequency of sessions. Pacing the work to allow your nervous system to process it at a speed that you are in control of and comfortable with, being present and spacious with the discomfort that arises, feeling what did not have the chance to be felt before, utilizing the wonderful coping strategies you have developed, and integrating what comes up in between weekly therapy sessions-- these are powerful and necessary components of trauma work.
Like the traditional model, EMDR Intensives address many of the same components of trauma work. EMDR Intensives are not necessarily a replacement, but can serve as a complement to other forms of therapy you are engaged in. At the table of so many powerful healing modalities, EMDR Intensives certainly have their place, bringing amazing benefits. One of the best: you may not have to manage as many symptoms in between sessions if you are doing an EMDR Intensive. As an alternative to taking off, cruising, and landing all in 50 minutes, an Intensive allows you to cruise at altitude for longer and take more time to comfortably land.
IS AN EMDR INTENSIVE A GOOD FIT FOR ME?
These are common reasons you may seek an intensive EMDR session as an alternative to weekly therapy.
You are looking to make more progress in a shorter amount of time. Life can be busy and it can be hard to find the time to dedicate to your healing when you are managing a lot of other responsibilities. Setting aside one full day to be fully present for therapy may feel more appealing and feasible in this season of your life than finding a predictable weekly spot.
Over the last few months, you experienced an acute stressful or traumatic event. You may notice it has felt disruptive to your natural rhythms or have been experiencing symptoms that have been difficult to manage. Other than this recent event, you do not feel that you have much more “back there” that needs processing or it has previously been addressed.
Currently you are in individual therapy or couple’s therapy and are looking for adjunctive trauma services to complement the work you are currently doing.
You have a crystal clear idea of what you want to focus on and how EMDR may benefit your current situation or symptoms.
In the past, you have done EMDR therapy, found it beneficial, and are now looking to address a new issue.
You have a solid social support system, a strong array of coping strategies, and the ability to experience and tolerate difficult feelings.
WHEN IS AN EMDR INTENSIVE NOT RECOMMENDED?
While there are no specific “rule outs” for an Intensive, as with most things, the answer is “it depends.” It is best to discuss your specific circumstances, goals, and expectations during a consultation call.
The following considerations may be an opportunity to check in with yourself and reflect whether you feel now is the time for you to do an EMDR Intensive.
If you are experiencing an ongoing stressor or traumatic event, or the storm has not quite passed, this can be an “it depends.” Sometimes the trauma or stressor does not have a neat and tidy beginning, middle, and end, such as systemic oppression, ongoing medical trauma, climate change, politics, existential threats, relationship trauma, etc. In EMDR we do not process the stressors in and of themselves, but the internal response to the stressor. Therefore, it is possible to address how the ongoing stressor or trauma is impacting you even if the circumstances are ongoing. EMDR can help address your nervous system response by bringing down the charge or distress and support you in building internal resources to cope more effectively. At the same time, more in-depth processing of past or current trauma does require a certain level of present engagement in regulation and adaptive coping. If you feel like you are currently trying to keep your head above water with the current level of stress, you may benefit from other forms of therapy, or a weekly EMDR format, to further prepare your nervous system for an Intensive.
Oftentimes what brings someone to therapy is a more recent experience that has impacted their ability to cope. When processing recent events, it is not uncommon for past experiences or trauma to be revealed, and perhaps not ever processed. A metaphor I love is viewing these more acute, present experiences as the foothills and the more longstanding past traumatic or unprocessed experiences as the mountains. (Gotta love a Colorado metaphor!) One EMDR Intensive will likely not address layers of trauma, but it may help address or bring down the foothills so that you can see the mountains. Or if you have addressed the foothills in previous therapy, an Intensive may help you address the mountains.
Feel free to schedule a consultation to discuss your therapeutic landscape and current needs. We can explore whether an EMDR Intensive feels like the best course of action in your healing journey at this moment in time.