Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a unique mind-body based intervention most known for treating PTSD, generalized anxiety, depression, and performance anxiety. It is a mental health treatment for helping people recover from traumatic memories or difficult life events. EMDR is short-term, effective, and can be done in-person or from home through online therapy.
What Is EMDR?
EMDR is a neuroscience-based approach to healing trauma that utilizes an 8-phase protocol. It is different from more traditional talk therapies, in that EMDR works to focus on the activation and desensitization of traumatic or upsetting memories.
This means that negative self-beliefs, triggering visuals, and uncomfortable body sensations, like muscle tension, are desensitized and are no longer linked together by neurons in the brain. This frees the mind to follow what EMDR calls the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model.
The mind is able to think more accurately about life events or relationships and to recognize that these triggers are a thing of the past. EMDR allows us to live in our current lives without earlier life content affecting our here-and-now.
What Can EMDR Help With?
Research has shown that EMDR is effective for treating:
How Does EMDR Work Online?
The primary principles and phases of EMDR do not change when done online. It is essentially the same and potentially enhanced by the fact that those receiving treatment can utilize various home comforts during treatment.
EMDR uses grounding techniques to help the client feel safe during the process. Often with EMDR online, providers will spend more time focusing on these grounding techniques, or “resources,” since the provider is less able to support that process remotely.
Some providers have been administering EMDR online with success for years. The pandemic further highlighted the need for effective, online treatments. Thankfully, hundreds of providers adapted to administering EMDR as a remote-therapy and in telehealth settings. Unfortunately there has not yet been extensive research comparing the use of EMDR online versus in-person; however, pre-published data is promising.
How Is Online EMDR Different From In-Person EMDR?
One of the primary differences between in-person and online EMDR is the way bi-lateral or dual attention devices are delivered. EMDR relies on the use of dual-attention to facilitate the desensitization and adaptation of negative memories. This is traditionally done through eye movements, auditory sound, or tactile stimulation (like tapping).
When in person, the therapist will utilize their own hands or electronic devices like a light bar. When EMDR is done online, the provider might have the client self-tap or use an online software. EMDR software often incorporates a moving light, similar to a light bar, or sounds through headphones.
Although EMDR is extremely effective, the process requires the activation of negative memory content or triggers, which can be quite uncomfortable or upsetting. Some clients feel more contained and safe if doing so in the therapist’s office. Others prefer to be at home where they are most comfortable, meaning they prefer EMDR online.
Who Should Consider Another Treatment Plan?
EMDR delivered online and via telehealth can be effective for most people. Like any telehealth visit, it is not ideal for those who cannot obtain privacy while at home or work. Those that struggle to cope with negative feelings may want to opt for an in-person setting where they can get an immediate response from the provider who is in the room. In general, the majority of clients would be fine doing EMDR remotely.
How to Find an Online EMDR Therapist
There are not any current directories specifically for online EMDR therapists; however, people can visit EMDRIA.org to find an EMDR therapist in their area who may have online delivery designated on their provider profile. Alternatively, many therapist directories have EMDR listed in the provider’s profile as a specialty.
Who Is Able to Practice EMDR Online?
EMDRIA recently released their guidelines for providing EMDR online.1 There is not currently a specific designation required for the online delivery of EMDR; however, it is recommended to seek providers who have completed an EMDRIA-approved training and have reached EMDRIA Certified status.
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Cost of Online EMDR
The cost of Online EMDR is largely equivalent to in-person EMDR treatment. Since it requires the provider to have extensive, specialized training, the fees can often be higher than the cost traditional psychotherapy. The cost can also vary depending on the length of the session, for example, 60 or 90 minutes.
One can expect to pay in the range of $150-250 a session for remote EMDR treatment. Clients can expect to feel the effects and beginnings of relief from EMDR treatment in as early as 3 sessions.
Private insurance plans will typically cover EMDR treatment, because it is so effective. It is important to be aware that many common, online telehealth platforms provided by health insurance companies, like MDLive, prohibit EMDR treatment due to its specialization. If looking to utilize your health insurance, it may be best to make sure your mental and behavioral health benefits do not restrict you to the use of a specific, online platform.
In general, the advocacy efforts for insurance plans to cover mental health and behavioral health delivered online have been successful; although there is still work to be done. There are currently several advocacy groups petitioning for parity, meaning they must cover online, remote, and telehealth services the same as in-person. As always, each prospective client must check with their individual plan’s benefits.
Key Questions to Ask a Therapist When Considering Online EMDR
When considering online EMDR, it would be wise to seek-out a provider with a good amount of experience using EMDR both in-person and online.
The following questions would be helpful to ask a prospective online EMDR provider:
- What do they use for bilateral stimulation (BLS)? Do they use any software?
- How long have they been delivering EMDR online or remotely, and do they feel confident with this approach?
- Have they been trained by an EMDRIA approved training provider?
- Have they reached Certified status?
- Do they have any particular approaches for grounding and stabilization in a remote setting?
How to Prepare for Your First Online EMDR Appointment
To prepare for your first online EMDR appointment, it would be helpful to have an idea of your therapy goals. These can also be discussed and clarified with the provider if you are not sure. It is recommended to secure a private space that is comfortable and has good lighting. You may want to have personal items with you that feel comforting, like a blanket, favorite candle, hand cream, or photograph.
If your provider utilizes software, you will likely want to use a laptop with a larger screen or a desktop computer instead of a phone. This will make your use of the BLS devices more comfortable.
What to Expect at Your First Appointment
Depending on the specific provider, you can expect to participate in a typical intake session where you discuss your reasons for starting treatment, provide a brief personal history, and determine your goals for treatment.
At the end of this session, the provider will let you know if EMDR is a good fit for your goals. Then, during the first phase of EMDR, you and the provider will work together to identify specific, historical memories or current triggers that can be focused on one at a time.
Is Online EMDR Effective?
More research is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of online EMDR and compare Online EMDR to in-person EMDR. There are currently studies being conducted but there is little published data.2
Despite the need for more scientific studies, online EMDR is supported by major global associations including the EMDR International Association and EMDR Europe.
Final Thoughts on Online EMDR
EMDR has been shown to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms within a 6 week period.3 Online EMDR allows for the same protocol to be delivered in a convenient, remote setting when coming into an office might be difficult. This psychotherapy approach is a good choice for anyone who has experienced mental health issues after negative life events. Reaching out to an online EMDR therapist may be the key to healing that you have been searching for.
Online EMDR Therapy Infographics