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  • Christie Pearl, LMHC, LPC

FAQ's: What an EMDR Intensive Is & What It Isn't

For many people, the traditional format of weekly therapy just doesn't work. Whether it's limited time in their schedules or a desire to get to the heart of the matter more quickly, EMDR Intensives are becoming increasingly popular.

After having done over a hundred EMDR Intensives over the past few years, I have noticed that many people come to initial sessions with me having heard about EMDR therapy in general, and EMDR Intensives in particular, and feeling very excited about it, but not really knowing what to expect from an EMDR Intensive.

My goal for this blog post is to help potential EMDR Intensive clients have a more clear understanding of what they can expect in our work together, so both the client and me, the EMDR therapist, can set ourselves up for success!

Before we talk about what an EMDR Intensive is, let's first talk about what it isn't.

EMDR Intensives Are Not a Magic Pill

If you're like most people who book an initial session with me, you've probably already done some personal growth work, either on your own or with another therapist, but you haven’t quite seen the changes that you wanted to see. You are excited about the idea of doing an EMDR Intensive so that you can really go all in and get relief from the things you’re struggling with. I get it! You’re ready to have that freedom and peace you’ve been craving. And an EMDR Intensive can help you get there. However...

No form of therapy -- whether it’s talk therapy, EMDR therapy or something else, is a magic pill.

Over the years, I've had potential clients come to me when they haven’t been able to make the progress they wanted to make in talk therapy. Somewhere along the line, they heard about EMDR and that all you have to do is think about something that bothers you and the therapist will wave something in front of your face that will fix all your issues or make all your unpleasant feelings go away.

And while it's true that EMDR can and does allow you to resolve painful experiences in what sometimes seems like too-good-to-be-true ways, it still requires that you learn to feel those old unresolved painful feelings while staying grounded and present so that you can ultimately put those painful experiences in the past where they belong.

Feeling is healing, and there’s no shortcut for that.

If you currently struggle to cope with uncomfortable feelings and find yourself reaching for the bottle, the fridge or the online shopping cart, jumping ahead and trying to skip steps in your healing will just send you further into a tailspin.

And that’s not what we’re looking to do.

It is OK to be struggling with these issues - that’s why you’re coming to therapy! But we have to go into the work with eyes open and know where you’re starting from.

Now the good news. Let’s talk about what an EMDR Intensive actually is.

EMDR Intensives Are Accelerators - Not Replacements

Think of your EMDR Intensive as an accelerator for your therapy journey. We aren't going to skip any necessary steps that the mind and body need to do in order to heal, but we are going to do the next few steps more quickly.

I often say to my clients, for example, if you’re trying to get from A to Z, and when you come in for your EMDR Intensive you’re currently at D, we will work together to go through E, F, and G.

We will take the next right steps that will allow you to move forward toward your goals. And we will be able to take those steps more quickly using EMDR therapy than traditional approaches.

It is OK to feel nervous or conflicted about doing an EMDR Intensive

Most of us feel some amount of ambivalence when we are considering change. It is normal to feel conflicted about shifting old beliefs that have been a part of our lives for a long time, even if they aren't serving us anymore. EMDR Intensives help us move beyond old narratives and grab onto new ways of seeing ourselves and others. Part of you wants to change, and part of you might not. In my experience, EMDR Intensives work best for people who have enough readiness to let go of the old patterns that are no longer serving them.

EMDR Intensives Are Deep Work

EMDR Intensives require a lot from you, the client, and from me, the EMDR therapist. We are both going to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to the process. With traditional weekly therapy, you can squeeze it in in between other meetings or obligations. But in order to get the most out of your EMDR Intensive, you will want to be ready to put other things aside for the time being and do some deep work.

In other words, you won't want to come rushing in, distracted and busy, like you might normally do with other therapy sessions. And you won't want to jump into the next thing on your schedule after your intensive sessions. Think of it like a retreat where you can have time before and after for yourself. This isn't just about self-care. Your brain will need time afterward to integrate what shifted and changed.

EMDR Intensives Are Opportunities For Lasting Change

As I mentioned above, in my opinion, EMDR Intensives work best for those who have enough readiness for change. I find it valuable to help potential clients know what overall stage of trauma recovery they are in before they decide whether or not an EMDR Intensive is right for them. The stages of trauma recovery are generally understood to be Safety and Stabilization, Trauma Processing, and Integration and Moving On (see Judith Herman's or Janina Fisher's body of work for more on this).

In my experience doing intensives over the past several years, the times when clients have not experienced as much change as they were hoping for were when they were very early in their trauma recovery process and didn't have enough stability in the present in order to start resolving past issues. These clients who are coming to an EMDR Intensive want to be in the Trauma Processing stage, but are in fact in the Safety and Stabilization stage. In these instances, because we don't skip steps in recovery, we needed to use the EMDR Intensive to work on building more capacity for safety and stabilizing them in the present. This can be life-changing work and is also creating lasting change, but to a client who is wanting to get to the "hard stuff" now, it can feel disappointing.

Assuming a client does have enough capacity to tolerate working on the "hard stuff," then an EMDR Intensive can be an incredible opportunity for rapid relief and long-lasting change. There is nothing like watching a person release old narratives that they have held onto for years and sometimes decades. These moments are why I do what I do!

In my opinion, most people would benefit from an EMDR Intensive. But I want my clients to have as much as clarity as possible about what an EMDR Intensive would be like for their unique circumstances. Hopefully this article has given you a better idea of what to expect if you are considering an EMDR Intensive. All of the considerations I have talked about here are important to discuss during our initial session so that you can make the right decision for you.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below!

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