EMDR & Your Faith
Written by Emily Clifford and Tina Motley, LCSW

Okay. So, you have done some research or have gotten a referral from someone, and you’ve decided EMDR is the type of therapy you want to try. A good friend or a doctor told you that this is what you needed to finally gain control over your trauma or work through your anxiety. Naturally, you have some questions. That’s understandable and expected. Hopefully, we can answer one of the most common ones for you. How do we incorporate (or not incorporate) your faith, religion, or scripture into this process?

There are eight stages or phases to EMDR. The first phase is where we begin with all our clients – history and treatment planning – regardless of whether they are interested in EMDR or not. Your therapist will ask you to complete a clinical intake to gather some details on what your previous treatment and mental health challenges.

The second phase – preparation – is a continuation of the treatment planning phase. Your therapist will explain EMDR to you, how it works, what to expect and what not to expect. Your therapeutic relationship with continue to be developed and strengthened during this time. You can ask questions, raise concerns, and verbalize your own fears and expectations. This is the time where your coping skills will be assessed and talked about.

Next comes the assessment in phase three. Now it is time to talk about the specific event or events, also called the target event. You’ll be asked to recall images, sounds, feelings, beliefs, and sensations around that target event. A baseline will be taken on where you are with your distress response. This in itself can be very hard. Having already identified those items to help keep you grounded, you can use your scripture or item to help you through this session. Prayer is always welcome.

Phases four through eight works closely in tandem with each other. Now you are entering the stage of reprocessing through dual attention bilateral stimulation, the hallmark of EMDR therapy. In the fourth phase – desensitization – the side-to-side eye movements begin while focusing on the traumatic event and will continue throughout as many sessions as may be needed until your distress level reduces. During this time, new thoughts, sensations, images, and feelings may emerge. Having already established your calm place and other coping methods, you will use these items to return to a state of calmness before session ends. When desensitization is complete, the sixth phase, installation, begins. In this phase, you will associate and strengthen the new, more adaptive and true belief, with the target event. Scripture is especially helpful in this stage as it can provide a Biblical truth that influences the new, more accurate, positive belief. During the sixth phase – body scan – you are asked to hold in mind the target event and the accurate belief while scanning the body from head to toe. If any negative feelings arise, those will be reprocessed.

Reprocessing this target event always ends with closure, or the seventh phase. This is when you will be returned to a state of calmness in the moment. This occurs at the end of every EMDR session. Your Scripture, Bible, cross, or prayer can be utilized in this moment to help you ground yourself before leaving. Reprocessing occurs until there is no longer any lingering distress around the target event. You will likely feel neutral when recalling it and your positive belief has begun taking root. The final stage is referred to as reevaluation and will occur at the start of every session as you talk through your progress so far and how you feel about the target event.

Your faith can play a very large role in your EMDR journey or no role at all. That is your decision to make. However, if you choose to utilize your faith while reprocessing, we welcome such; it is always client lead and therapist supported.