Can You Do EMDR on Yourself?
EMDR therapy is a type of psychological treatment that has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions.
While EMDR therapy is typically administered by a trained therapist, there is growing evidence that self-administered EMDR may also be effective.
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about self-administered EMDR, including how to get started and what to expect.
I also tried it and it looks like it works!
Table of Contents
What is EMDR?
EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy developed over 30 years ago by psychologist Francine Shapiro, and is now backed by decades of research. It is a therapeutic approach that utilizes bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, finger taps, or sounds, to help reprocess negative thoughts and emotions.
EMDR works to focus on the activation and desensitization of traumatic or upsetting memories, allowing the mind to think more accurately about life events or relationships and to recognize that these triggers are a thing of the past.
This frees the mind to follow what EMDR calls the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model and create new associations between the traumatic event and a healthier emotional state. EMDR is often used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, or phobias.
What is bilateral stimulation?
Bilateral stimulation is a therapeutic technique used in EMDR that involves the use of alternating sensory stimulation (visual, auditory, and/or tactile) to help the brain reprocess traumatic memories or stressful thoughts. Devices such as light bars, headphones, and tappers can be used to help with the bilateral stimulation process.
Combining bilateral stimulation with focusing on the stressor may result in a sense of clarity or relief.
Altering stimuli can help with EMDR by allowing the traumatic event to transition from a sensory experience to a purely factual experience, thus removing the emotionality of the event and allowing the client to remember the facts without feeling overwhelmed. During the desensitization phase, the client is asked to pair the distressing memory with therapist-directed bilateral stimulation, such as auditory and visual stimuli, to help challenge their beliefs and increase their self-efficacy.
Altering stimuli in EMDR can ultimately help the client to transition from feeling powerless to being in control.
Bilateral stimulation at home?
There are three types of bilateral stimulation available for use in EMDR: visual, auditory, and tactile.
- Visual bilateral stimulation can be accomplished via the use of light bars, which are horizontal bars with LED lights that move from side to side.
- Auditory bilateral stimulation may be achieved by listening to a bilateral stimulation recording with headphones, where a noise is alternated between the left and right ears.
- Tactile bilateral stimulation can be done with the help of tappers or buzzers, handheld devices that vibrate in an alternating pattern.
Combining auditory and visual bilateral stimulation has been found to be more powerful than using one type of stimulation alone. For best results, it’s recommended to use headphones that fit over the ears to listen to the audio recordings used for auditory stimulation. With the right device, those looking to self-administer EMDR at home can do so safely and effectively.
Self-administered bilateral stimulation can include walking, jogging, drum circles, tapping (bilaterally), doing the Butterfly hug, and even horseback riding, as anything with a rhythmic activation of alternating sides of the body may be used.
Sleeping with a weighted blanket is also a great sensory stimulation.
1. What Is Self-Administered EMDR?
Self-administered EMDR, also known as self-directed EMDR, is a psychotherapeutic technique in which an individual administers EMDR to themselves without the close guidance of a certified EMDR therapist.
Self-administered EMDR is still a controversial issue, as research and opinions from experts have identified both positive and negative aspects of attempting to perform this technique on your own.
When self-administering EMDR, it is important to understand the technique and trust yourself. Additionally, it is recommended to only use self-administered EMDR for smaller-scale traumas, such as something “minor” that has happened in the present.
If you decide to try a self-administered EMDR program, it is important to meet with a certified EMDR therapist first.
What are the benefits of doing EMDR on yourself?
The benefits of doing EMDR on yourself can include:
- Reduced feelings of distress and anxiety related to trauma
- Improved concentration and focus
- Increased sense of self-efficacy
- The ability to process traumatic memories more effectively
- Gaining insight into how your mind works and how to cope with difficult emotions
- Freedom to respond to EMDR in a manner that is comfortable to you
- The potential to find meaning and resolution in traumatic events
- Decreased symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety
- Overall improved mental health and wellbeing.
The Pros And Cons Of Self-Administered EMDR
The pros and cons of self-administered EMDR therapy must be carefully weighed before making the decision to pursue this practice. On the one hand, there are numerous resources and supports available if you wish to learn this method, and research suggests that self-administered EMDR can be beneficial in some cases especially in scenarios in which self-administered EMDR may be the only appropriate solution such as
- lack of access to an EMDR therapist,
- inability to afford formal treatment,
- there is an acute symptom that needs immediate relief.
A 2013 study by Spence, Titov, and Johnson et.al found that nine out of the eleven participants who completed post-treatment questionnaires said they would recommend the course to a friend. However, experienced EMDR practitioners cautioned that self-administered EMDR is not advisable when dealing with anything other than very small traumas due to the potential for retraumatizing oneself or not properly addressing the trauma at hand.
Furthermore, it is important to understand that administering EMDR without fully understanding the process can be inefficient and result in partial, minimal, or no trauma resolution.
1. How to do EMDR yourself
Getting started with self-EMDR is an exciting process, but it is important to familiarize yourself with the complete technique first. Self-EMDR requires an 8-stage process that goes beyond just the eye movements.
Step 1: Gather information on self-administered EMDR. Research the positive and negative aspects of attempting to do it on your own. Consider consulting with a certified EMDR therapist, especially if you have bigger traumas that could be retraumatizing.
Step 2: Identify the traumas that you wish to work on and decide if self-administered EMDR is right for you.
Step 3: Consider purchasing a structured Virtual EMDR program which guides the user step-by-step through self-administered EMDR.
Step 4: Prepare for the process. Make sure you are in a safe and comfortable environment, have a support person available, and have the necessary materials (e.g. eye-movement tracking device, soothing music, etc.).
Step 5: Begin by bringing to mind the traumatic memory and associated negative thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Focus on the intensity of these.
Step 6: Start the eye-movement tracking device and follow the movements with your eyes. Concentrate on the traumatic memory during this time and allow yourself to be open to any thoughts or emotions that arise.
Step 7: After the eye-movements stop, take a moment to observe and note any changes in thoughts, feelings or physical sensations.
Step 8: Repeat steps 5-7 until the distress of the memory or thoughts associated with it has been neutralized.
Step 9: Take time to process your experience and observe the changes. Make sure to take some time to relax and give your mind and body time to adjust.
Step 10: Monitor the effects of self-administered EMDR on an ongoing basis. If any of the previously held beliefs or negative thoughts resurface, beginning the EMDR process again can help to further reduce distress.
2. Things to Consider When Doing Self-EMDR
When doing self-EMDR, there are some important things to consider, such as:
1) The risks involved – retraumatization, worsening symptoms of dissociation, intense abreactions, and ineffective results
2) The importance of a therapeutic relationship with a skilled EMDR therapist to minimize risk
3) Familiarizing yourself with the 8-step EMDR process and its components.
4) The importance of the installation stage in order to identify and replace self-defeating and dysfunctional beliefs with positive ones
3. Types of Self-EMDR
There are two types of self-administered EMDR: traditional self-EMDR and modified self-EMDR.
- Traditional self-EMDR involves the eight-step EMDR process and uses eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to desensitize traumatic memories. This involves a series of guided eye movements, which the patient is asked to focus on while allowing their trauma to surface. This process is designed to help the patient process and make sense of their trauma, so they can reinterpret it in a more adaptive way.
- Modified self-EMDR is a more customized approach and can involve a combination of techniques to achieve the desired results. These techniques include mindfulness, exposure therapy, cognitive therapy, and relaxation techniques. This approach is particularly useful for those who may have difficulty with the eye-movement component of traditional EMDR. Modified self-EMDR can also involve the installation stage, which involves identifying self-defeating and dysfunctional beliefs and consciously replacing them with more adaptive thoughts.
Overall, both types of self-administered EMDR can be effective for those dealing with trauma, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
4. Common Symptoms Treated with Self-EMDR
Self-administered EMDR is a process in which individuals use the same 8-step protocol as in-person EMDR therapy to reprocess a traumatic memory or event. Common symptoms treated with self-EMDR include symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, performance anxiety, and relationship difficulties.
5. Need for Professional Help
Professional help could be needed for DIY EMDR because it is a complex process, and without professional guidance, it is easy to make mistakes that can actually worsen symptoms. Therefore, it is important to have a trained professional guiding you through each step of the EMDR therapy treatment process.
Can i do EMDR on myself?
Yes. There are virtual EMDR solutions but it should not be used as a substitute for more traditional forms of psychotherapy or talk therapy, as it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is important to remember that EMDR is not just eye movements, but an 8-phase process that requires proper skill and technique.
But be aware that EMDR is an emotionally intense experience, and requires focus and concentration which can be difficult to achieve on one’s own. Attempting EMDR therapy on oneself can be counterproductive and even dangerous. Therefore, if you are considering EMDR therapy, it is important to consult with a qualified professional beforehand.
How do I know if self-administered EMDR therapy is right for me?
If you are considering self-administered EMDR therapy, it is important to understand the potential risks and benefits. Here are some steps to help you decide whether self-administered EMDR is the right choice for you:
- Research: Acquire information on the EMDR technique by reading up on the process and watching any available instructional videos. Talk to certified EMDR therapists to learn more about the therapy.
- Assess your needs: Consider your current symptoms and trauma history to determine if your issues are best addressed with self-administered EMDR or if you would be better served by a trained therapist.
- Consider your comfort level: Determine your comfort level with emotional expression and your ability to handle a potential increase in traumatic re-experiencing or an overall worsening of symptoms following treatment. Be aware that crying is common during the EMDR process so it is not an issue but an effect of the treatment.
- Ask for advice: Talk to qualified mental health professionals about your feelings and symptoms to get an opinion about whether self-administered EMDR is the best course of action for you.
- Seek support: If you decide to practice self-administered EMDR, consider getting support from friends, family and/or a trusted therapist before, during and after the process.
- Stay mindful: Monitor how you’re feeling throughout the process and take breaks if needed. If you find that the process is becoming too overwhelming or that the symptoms are worsening, it is best to stop and discuss the situation with a professional.
- Follow-up: Schedule regular follow-up appointments with a therapist to ensure that your progress is being tracked.
- Evaluate results: After completing the EMDR process, assess how successful it was in addressing your concerns and whether you would recommend it to someone else.
By following these steps, you can make an informed decision about whether self-administered EMDR is the best path for you. Remember to always consult with a trained therapist before attempting any form of self-treatment.
What resources are available to help me with self-administered EMDR therapy?
There are a variety of resources available if you wish to attempt self-administered EMDR, including online self-administered EMDR programs, such as Virtual EMDR, which offer a structured program and free trial.
When should you not use EMDR?
When it comes to self-administered EMDR, it is important to be aware of when it should not be used. DIY EMDR should NOT be used in cases of complex trauma, phobias, or PTSD if you are not working with a certified EMDR practitioner.
Due to the risk of retraumatization, worsening symptoms of dissociation, intense abreactions, and/or ineffective results, it is important to work with an experienced practitioner.
Can EMDR be done virtually?
Yes, EMDR can be done virtually thanks to many advancements in modern technology. When EMDR is done online, the provider may have the client self-tap or use an online software with a moving light or sounds through headphones or videos on youtube.
EMDR is effective, the process requires the activation of negative experiences, which could be quite uncomfortable for some. Therefore, some people may prefer to do EMDR in an in-person setting with a therapist where they feel more contained but some prefer to do it remotely from their safe home.
Is EMDR the same as tapping?
No, EMDR and tapping are not the same. While both EMDR and tapping are forms of Bilateral Stimulation, the approaches are different.
EMDR involves an eight phase approach which includes history taking, client preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and re-evaluation. The therapist uses a back and forth eye movement to help the client process and integrate their traumatic memories.
Tapping, on the other hand, involves stimulating specific points on the body by tapping with your fingers. It helps to activate the body’s energy meridians to release emotional tension and stimulate the body’s natural healing response. It is a more direct form of bilateral stimulation compared to EMDR.