Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is no longer a new and controversial treatment option for trauma and stress related disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), complex PTSD (C-PTSD), generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and many other mental health struggles. There continues to be growing evidence for the efficacy and safety of EMDR therapy since the 1980's and in the most recent years, more and more EMDR therapists are specializing in intensive EMDR therapy to help their clients rapidly resolve pains of the past. There is a good chance that you have heard about, read, or have seen social media posts talking about "EMDR Intensives." But what is an "EMDR intensive" and what is important to know before taking this next step in your healing? Even the language of it can sound intense and intimidating. My goal here is to break it down in a way so you are more informed and can ultimately make the best decision for yourself. (These are all areas I discuss in much more detail during my initial consultation calls with prospective clients.)
You most likely didn't have a choice or say in what happened to you in your past that has you seeking intensive therapy, therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you do so in your actual path towards healing, especially therapy.
Intensive EMDR Therapy can range from anything beyond the traditional one hour, once per week therapy session up to multiple, consecutive days and should be customized to help you, the client, in a way that makes the most sense for your circumstance, schedule, goals, support system, and your ability to energetically and financially invest in this type of therapy.
Every EMDR therapist that offers intensive therapy will have their own specific method, approach, personality, and policies. I love this about our field. We get to invest in the advanced training and skills and then we get to integrate our own personalities and energy into what we offer. The era of the "blank slate/robotic" therapist is no longer the norm. (And if you choose to work with me, you will learn that the only robot I can sort of do is the dance:) Above all of this, it is important that you feel as informed as possible when considering intensive EMDR therapy and that it is an appropriate for you.
As a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDR International Consultant specializing in intensive EMDR in Connecticut, my approach is to create a self-led "retreat" experience for my clients. Investing in the deep work of trauma therapy is not just another check mark on your to-do list for the day. Optimally, it is a profound life-changing experience that unlocks a whole new level of your life and growth that you have been seeking or didn't even know was possible. In my private practice, Wilcox Wellness, LLC, this can happen over a series of 2 hour- 3.5 hour online intensives and (one of my personal favorites) 2-3 full days that take place in person.
Personally and professionally, this work is incredibly rewarding for me on so many levels. But that is not enough. While it is important that any therapist that you choose to work with finds satisfaction in their career, this is only one factor that can set you up for success in your own therapy.
Here are 5 Ways That You Can Get the Most Out of Your EMDR Intensive
1) Come Prepared for Your Consult Call
Most therapists will offer an initial consult call of some kind to explore if working together makes sense. In my practice, prospective EMDR intensive clients schedule initial 45 minute consultation phone calls with me so we can explore if intensive therapy is a good option. My recommendation is to write down any questions you have prior to your call and keep a notepad handy to jot down information during the call. All questions are good questions. When writing down your questions, do not be afraid to ask about the therapist's level of training, if they have helped others with similar issues to yours, and express any hopes or concerns that you have. The initial call will be a chance for you to get a feel of what the therapist is like (and if you could see yourself working with them and vice versa), learn about the process, get an idea of what a treatment plan may look like, discuss finances, and decide if you wish to move forward in scheduling an intensive therapy or not.
2) Create "Bookended Buffers" for Yourself
Whether your intensive therapy is a series of longer online appointments or in person, I recommend that you clear time beforehand and afterwards. As of 2023, Connecticut licensed therapists are only able to work with clients that are physically located in Connecticut when the therapy is actually taking place. Many of the intensive clients I work with do not live in Connecticut and can travel from anywhere in the world to my office by car, train, or plane. My general rule of thumb is that the longer the session, the more time you may need (especially after the fact.) If you are traveling from out of state, for example, it is best to stay the night before your first scheduled intensive day. If you live in Connecticut and we are meeting online, give yourself at least 15 minutes before your scheduled session and eliminate as many responsibilities as possible after your session. Many clients feel wired or tired after intensive EMDR and going right into normal, daily life responsibilities is highly discouraged. For instance, do not go into a work meeting, make an elaborate 7 course meal for your friends, drive long distances, jump on a flight immediately, work on your dissertation, or put the kids to bed on either end of an intensive EMDR session. Allow yourself the time and space to "just be". (I provide a more detailed recommendation list and suggested travel itinerary for optimizing intensive EMDR therapy for my therapy clients.)
3) Create a "Self-Led" Retreat Experience
Do it up as much as possible. Whether you are doing therapy for 2 hours at a time or traveling out of state for 3 days, make it as luscious, boundaried, and supportive as possible. This may include removing social media and your work email from your phone, scheduling a massage, float session, acupuncture, and/or having your favorite foods and non-alcoholic beverages on the ready. Have a special therapy journal with a smooth, gel point pen in a cool color to bring to session and use afterwards. Add a slice of lemon or electrolytes to your water bottle. Wear soft fabric that feels good on your body. Create a healing playlist to listen to. Work 1:1 with a gentle yoga therapist or have your favorite online yoga class ready to go when you need it. Explore near by areas to walk, shop, eat, etc. Craft your experience the way you wish. Detox from hustle culture for a hot minute. Take a conscious break from normal, day to day life, and treat it as a mental health and wellness retreat.
4) You Don't Have to Try Too Hard
Setting an intention and having a goal in mind for intensive EMDR therapy is helpful but don't let perfectionism trip you up. You do not need to be an expert in EMDR therapy to benefit from EMDR therapy. This also means that even if you have done EMDR in the past or you yourself are an EMDR therapist that you are not expected to have all of the answers and solutions to your problems. If you did, then you wouldn't be seeking more therapy. The beauty of EMDR is that, when working closely with a trained therapist, your brain and nervous system will ultimately lead you in the right direction for rapid healing and resolution. In my intensive work, it is so very common for my clients to experience initial anxiety about the process before it starts. I have found that after a short time of settling into the space together, that the initial anxiety goes way down and we both chuckle about how "it really isn't as difficult or scary as I thought it would be." Intensive EMDR, when done right, is not overwhelming. Is it hard work? Absolutely. Is it worth it and able to be done in a safe, paced, and comfortable as possible way? Absolutely. So, come as you are and know that you don't have to try too hard. Trust the process as much as you can.
5) Come With An Open Mind
Sometimes a client will feel very clear about what is it that they want to work on. For instance, "Sam" may call me and say "I want intensive EMDR to work on this terrible thing that happened to me 6 years ago" or "Sally" may email me and write "I want to do intensive EMDR to help me become a more confident in my business leadership skills." These are all worthy and important goals and great starting points. With this in mind, present day problems are often connected to past experiences that are outside of a person's conscious awareness. EMDR gets to the root causes of present pain points. So, your treatment plan may include addressing areas from your past and upbringing that you never thought were connected but actually are. A skilled EMDR therapist knows how to help you connect the dots between your present and past and then clear the path forward to the future that you desire. The length of time of your intensive EMDR therapy plan has a large influence on how much territory you can safely and effectively cover. As therapists, we can make our best educated guess on how intensive therapy can play out but ultimately the results, time needed, goals achieved, and personal experience will vary person to person.
Erica Wilcox, LPC is a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDRIA Approved Consultant specializing in intensive EMDR in the state of Connecticut. She helps individuals recovering from trauma and loss and athletes, creatives, and professionals improve their performance and confidence. For CT residents, she offers online intensives for up to 4 hours at a time and for anyone traveling to CT, she offers in-person intensives for up to 3 days at a time in her East Hampton, CT office. To become a client and inquire about availability, please schedule an initial phone consultation by sending an email to Erica at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are an EMDR Therapist wanting to learn how to launch or fine-tune your intensive EMDR therapy practice (the business and the clinical side) contact Erica at email@example.com to schedule a consultation or inquire about setting up a group consultation cohort.