Does Virtual EMDR Work?

Is EMDR as effective virtually as it is face-to-face?

In the pandemic world, so many aspects of our lives have gone virtual, but you might be wondering, does virtual therapy, and specifically EMDR, work just as well as seeing a therapist face-to-face? To start off, what exactly is EMDR? Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is an evidence-based psychotherapy approach originally created to treat trauma but has since been proven to also be effective in the treatment of anxiety, depression, OCD, etc. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to activate both sides of the brain to process memories that are “stuck”, or unprocessed, causing emotional distress and other symptoms. The original form of bilateral stimulation is eye movements, or following the therapist’s moving, side to side finger with your eyes. It’s common to ask that if this is how EMDR was originally created, how can it work virtually?

EMDR is an 8-phase process and while most people think of phase 4, the bilateral stimulation, and how it will work online, there is a lot of work done before then. Individuals can feel some relief in the beginning stages as the therapist helps you to build coping skills and look at things in a new, more trauma-informed way. The phases of EMDR are done the same virtually as face-to-face, and when getting to phase 4, your therapist will likely offer you several different bilateral stimulation options. The most common forms of bilateral stimulation that can be used virtually are: 

1. Eye movements: You can still follow a therapist’s finger back and forth virtually, or your therapist may send you a link to a moving dot on your screen that you can follow with your eyes.

2. Tapping: Alternate tapping your hands back and forth on your knees or alternate tapping with your feet.

3. Butterfly hug: Cross your arms over your chest with your hands on your shoulders and alternate tapping your hands.

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4. Auditory: You will wear a pair of headphones and your therapist will have you listen to beeps or taps back and forth on each side alternatively.

What are some benefits of virtual EMDR?

The experience of EMDR and which form of bilateral stimulation is most effective is different for everyone. You will work with your therapist to determine which option is best for you. Every person is different and may not prefer virtual EMDR, but there are benefits to virtual therapy, including:

1. Convenience and accessibility: Decreasing travel times, especially if you live somewhere remote, and being able to do therapy from your home is convenient, especially if you work from home.

2. Flexibility: Online therapy is often easier to work into your schedule.

3 . Comfort and Privacy: You may not want others to know you’re in therapy and prefer to do it from your own space where it feels safe and comfortable.

These benefits can be helpful to keep in mind when deciding between virtual vs. face-to-face therapy and when choosing a therapist. Since the increase of virtual therapy during the Covid-19 pandemic, studies have found that virtual EMDR significantly reduces distressing symptoms, emotions and memories, just as face-to-face EMDR does. In a time where more and more people are feeling isolated and as a result, suffering from anxiety and depression, therapy, and specifically EMDR, can help to alleviate those symptoms and help you get back to living a more fulfilling life. Reach out to the EMDR Center of Denver to schedule a free 15 minute consult today.

Gessica Cross, LCSW

Co-Owner and Licensed Therapist

Gessica Cross has helped people find  greater joy and healing from prior trauma, anxiety,  and depression, as well as processing sexual and/or gender identify and life transitions. She is formally trained in EMDR and graduated with a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Illinois with honors. She moved to Colorado after completing a post-graduate fellowship in India in which she provided pro bono work among survivors of kidnapping, abduction, and human slavery. She has specialized in helping people recover from situations of trauma, depression, and anxiety for the last ten years. She is excited to work with you!

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