Preparing for EMDR or ART: Setting the Stage for Successful Processing
Updated: Aug 2
If you’re reading this then you’re either getting ready to have your first EMDR processing session, have already started but want some tips, or are simply interested in learning more about the process. Regardless, you’re in the right place.
I’ve been using EMDR and ART with clients regularly since 2017 and 2019, respectively, and switched fully to conducting sessions virtually since… well, you guessed it, March 2020. Throughout the years I have a noticed what seems to be helpful as clients prepare for a processing session, and I thought I’d share that with you. You will surely have your own needs and create a routine that works specifically for you, but here are some ideas to consider.
Before A Session
o Find a spot that feels private where no one can hear you & you can’t hear others.
o Consider using a sound machine just outside your door or a phone app to further muffle sound. There are phone apps for this as well.
* This helps you speak freely without worrying about being overheard.
Get Your Computer Set Up
o Get eye-level with your computer screen.
During processing (if we're using a visual prompt, aka 'the dots') we'll want to have your eyes looking forward and to go back and forth about shoulder-width distance.
* This means that a phone screen would be too small, let me know if this is the case and we'll explore other options.
o Check your internet connection to make sure it’s strong enough for video. You can test it using the link that is sent from Simple Practice prior to a session.
* Closing certain webpages, especially those with videos, can help improve your internet connection
* Chrome browser tends to work better than Safari
o Set up your windows for processing (This may or may not apply to you)
If you’ve processed with me before and use ‘the dots’, you can open that window ahead of time. It’s your personal link with your customizations, feel free to bookmark it.
2 Window Option: Open the dots link in a new window (not new tab) so that the dots window takes up one half of your screen (either top or bottom) and our video session window takes the other half.
1 Window Option: Open the dots link and when it’s time for processing we will switch over to that completely, using it for both dots and video, all in one window.
If you haven’t yet processed with me or don’t use the dots, disregard this tip, we’ll get there.
Consider sitting somewhere else other than your work desk or make the space feel less work-y
Clear off your desk. You can even throw a blanket over everything work-related to put it out of view and create a cozier space for the session .
Close work-related or other distracting windows, turn off notifications (e.g., Outlook)
Turn on Do Not Disturb mode, maybe even put it face down or behind you, out of sight.
Set up for Comfort
o Have comfortable things near you such as a blanket, soft pillow, your aroma, tissues, fresh water or tea.
o Sit on a pillow and take off your shoes, maybe it's cozy sock time
o Scan the area and see if there is anything that would make the space more comfortable during the session.
* Perhaps changing the lighting, lighting a candle, reducing clutter, or change the view behind of what you see behind your computer.
o Set out coping skills
If you have coping skills in print or on sticky notes, set those out around you so you can have them handy if you need them. You may even feel more secure having them easily accessible so you don’t have to remember them in the moment.
o Mentally set aside work and other life topics, and shift your focus to what we’ll be working on together.
Use your mental container if we have created one together, if not, ask me about this.
o Take some deep breaths + stretches to help release tension built up from the day
o Give yourself permission to 'go there' today. Your brain may be used to putting up blocks and distractions to keep you away from these tough topics. Close your eyes, remind yourself of your tools, and give yourself a mini pep-talk to get ready
(eg- "Hi brain, we're going to be thinking about something difficult today and I know you can be very good at protecting me from these memories, thank you for that, but today I'd like intentionally think about these things so that I can heal once and for all. We have lots of tools to get through it, let's do this")
o Set aside concerns of 'doing it right'
There is no right or wrong in our therapy together, if you're wondering about something please ask. I love to explain more about the process, to clarify, and to adapt anything to your preferences, it makes me happy to do so. Trust your gut in the moment and challenge yourself to communicate with me along the way. My brain works like a decision tree--if you tell me what's going on it helps me to determine our next step. As you share with me, I'll always know how to guide you and can customize everything to you as I learn how your unique mind works.
Organize your thoughts
o Take a moment to consider what you may want me to know before we begin reprocessing
o It tends to be best if we check in for just a couple minutes (5min) and get into processing
sooner rather than later, creating plenty of time to make progress and to transition at the end of session.
o Things to consider for check-in time:
Any increased or decreased symptoms since the previous processing session that you’d like me to know about?
Any questions or concerns about the process that you’d like to discuss? I’m happy to provide clarifications and customizations to fit what feels right to you.
For example, do you feel like you need more/less time with the dots on before I verbally check in with you? Is there something we’re doing and you’re curious why?- perhaps I forgot to explain something. Do you feel like you need more time to set up/wrap up before we start/stop?
Is there something significant happening in your life that would make it difficult to concentrate on processing today?
If so, let me know if you simply need to share it or if you’re overwhelmed by it and would prefer to skip EMDR processing for the day. This way, I can better know how to guide the session, allowing sufficient time for reprocessing or not.
Are you finding yourself wanting to fill me in on things and talk more because you have some fears/concerns about processing or 'going there'?
If so, it's totally normal and great to recognize that. Just let me know the next time we meet and we can find ways to feel more safe, take a pause, change topics, or whatever else may be helpful, we'll figure it out together.
o You never need to plan or worry about 'What are we going to talk about today?' I always have a penciled in plan picking up from where we last left off. Likely it's not going to include much talking and more next steps of processing. You're welcome to voice a desire to change that based on your needs of that day but know that, with me, it's not your job to pre-plan our session, I'm on it.
You've got this. And if you don't think you do, talk to me about it, that's what I'm here for. My top priority is keeping you emotionally safe.
What about after the session?
Here are some tips for that too.