Can EMDR Be Done Online?

Many of us are feeling overwhelmed right now. Whether you are afraid of the virus, or you are worried about economic uncertainty, the COVID-19 pandemic has far-reaching consequences on our mental health. With more people struggling, therapists are figuring out how to deliver therapy in an online format.

Before the pandemic started, I had not thought about practicing EMDR online through a virtual platform. I was accustomed to providing CBT and talk therapy online, but I had not tried online EMDR therapy. But COVID-19 has created new circumstances and therapists are adapting. For the past 5 months, I have been practicing EMDR online and I am encouraged about the future of online trauma therapies, like EMDR.

What is EMDR?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987. EMDR therapy is a technique that was developed to help people recover after trauma. By using eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (or back-and-forth movements), while thinking about something distressing, our experience of the trauma shifts. EMDR therapy is now widely used and is an evidence-based treatment for PTSD and other conditions.

Research shows that EMDR can lessen the impact of symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, and traumatic memories. EMDR therapy has also been used to treat anxiety-related conditions like OCD and phobias. In contrast to other therapies, EMDR focuses directly on traumatic memories, or future anxieties and is intended to change the way the memory is stored in the brain.

Who Can Benefit from EMDR?

While EDMR began as a therapy for trauma, now EMDR therapy is widely used for a range of different issues. Some of the conditions EMDR can treat are:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Chronic Pain and Illness
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Addictions

EMDR is well-researched for PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Emerging studies are showing that EMDR has efficacy in other mood disorders, OCD, as well as chronic pain.

We know that EMDR can help many people with trauma symptoms, but we are in a pandemic, and trauma is heightened. Many therapists are only practicing online and clients are not comfortable meeting in person. While historically, EMDR is done at your therapist’s office, clinicians are finding new ways of delivering this treatment online.

How Can EMDR Be Done Online?

EMDR is typically a hands-on treatment method. When I was working with clients in-person, I used hand-held vibrating tappers to deliver the bi-lateral stimulation needed for EMDR therapy. It has been challenging for therapists to determine how to provide the back-and-forth movement needed to engage both sides of the brain, while clients are at home.

Some therapists are now successfully having clients tap themselves on their legs or arms to create the bi-lateral stimulus. In our practice, we are using a tool that combines a virtual light bar with an additional auditory component. This allows clients to engage both sight and sound. During a typical online therapy session, the therapist sets up the online EMDR tool in a window separate from the telehealth platform. Clients will watch a ball move back-and-forth across the screen, with the option to listen to a sound as well. This is easy for clients to access and the therapist can control the speed and volume of the instrument.

The benefits of online EMDR are that clients are in their home environment and in a setting that is comfortable and soothing.  Commuting to a therapist’s office can be anxiety-provoking for some. When experiencing symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health issues, easing the burden of accessibility is essential. Therapists must also ensure clients’ safety, as trauma processing can be intense. While online EMDR does pose challenges, therapists are finding the best practices to allow for virtual EMDR to be safe and effective.

Is Online EMDR Effective?

Studies looking at the internet delivery of EMDR are limited. One 2013 study looking at combined internet-delivered EMDR and CBT found that 55% of the participants no longer met criteria for PTSD post-treatment. There is certainly more room for research related to online EMDR.

In my experience since the pandemic started, online EMDR has been very effective. Many clients prefer online trauma treatment to in-person sessions. I have been impressed with the results of online EMDR and with the added trauma we are all facing right now, online EMDR can provide some needed relief.

The pandemic has pushed therapists to pivot to online platforms and figure out how to deliver effective trauma therapy. Online EMDR is a great solution and can be available for those who might not otherwise have access to this treatment.

Learn More About Online EMDR

EMDR therapy is a powerful step in moving past trauma and starting to heal. We are living in a challenging time and EMDR can help. If you are struggling, feel free to contact us to learn more about our practice and how online EMDR can help you.

Annie Miller is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in the Washington DC area. Annie specializes in working with insomnia (CBT-i), trauma (EMDR), teen mental health, anxiety disorders and chronic pain. Interested in learning more about EMDR? Check out DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy’s EMDR page.

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