EMDR: The Side Effects Explained

 When helping clients determine whether or not EMDR therapy is right for them, there are always lots of questions about the process and possible side effects. EMDR therapy can be used to sharpen our memory and recall related to traumatic experiences, which are often harder to access. Sessions may focus on tapping into and then exploring the emotional and physical experience of trauma. For many, this is an understandably scary thought.

 It sometimes helps to think of EMDR as a ghost story. We’re haunted by old memories from the past. To help our ghosts rest, we must process the message they’re trying to send us. In today’s blog post, we’ll delve into what EMDR therapy is and what side effects you may experience along the way.

What Is EMDR?

 In broad terms, EMDR therapy makes use of bilateral stimulation to activate areas of the brain reserved for the storage of implicit memory. Implicit memories are things you feel or know without having to intentionally recall them.

For example, knowing how to throw a ball or ride a bike—or how it feels to burn your hand on a hot stove. While it’s easier to understand these as physical memories, emotional sensations can be stored in the same way. Oftentimes, our fight-or-flight instinct is triggered by implicit memories in ways we may not consciously understand.

 During EMDR therapy, therapist and client work together to explore these implicit memories, process them, and resolve them. This process is meant to help us move these memories from implicit to explicit storage. Those ghosts still live inside us, but with EMDR therapy, we choose when we want to hear their message.

Side Effects

 While EMDR has repeatedly shown its effectiveness over the years, the process can be emotionally and physically draining. Clients may feel exhausted after the session and for up to twenty-four to forty-eight hours after. During that time, previously forgotten details of unpleasant memories may continue to surface.

silhouette of a woman looking out at a sunset skyDuring an EMDR session, you may experience physical and emotional discomfort. Nausea, muscle tension, and even unexpected feelings of sadness or anger may come over you in waves. Critically, it’s important for you to feel safe and empowered as this takes place. Maintain open communication with your therapist so they understand what you’re feeling and can guide you. You can always ask to pause or take a break.

 Some other side effects you may notice during or after EMDR therapy:

  • Heightened emotionality: You may feel more emotionally sensitive and aware for several days after an EMDR session.
  • Strange or unusual dreams: Our brains work overtime after EMDR therapy to reprocess and integrate traumatic memories. This process often plays out in our dreams. For several days after a session, you may experience unusually vivid dreams while sleeping.
  • Increased anxiety: Some people report an increase in anxious thoughts and feelings immediately after an EMDR session.
  • Physical discomfort: Implicit memories are closely linked to sensations throughout our bodies. During and after an EMDR session, you may experience headaches and nausea, as well as other minor aches and pains.
  • Improved recall: You may find it easier to remember traumatic memories after an EMDR session—including elements of those memories you may not otherwise recall, such as smells, sensations, or even tones of voice and visual patterns.

  With those side effects in mind, most clients report rapid improvement after EMDR sessions. Many report feelings of peacefulness, calm, and control.

Getting Support

 Schedule a consultation to learn more about whether or not EMDR therapy is right for you. While EMDR may sound scary, I have seen first-hand the kind of improvements and healing it can bring to people’s lives. I would love to help you determine whether or not it sounds right for you. Reach out to learn more about EMDR or trauma therapy.