We have already covered the question of whether EMDR can be self adminstered in another article, recommending that it be done with a therapist instead, but assuming someone does want to self administer it, what ways are there of doing it?
There are plenty of visual and audio resources online which can help you to self administer EMDR. Using these in the correct way and with a wider understanding of the entire EMDR process can help you to self administer the treatment to the extent some benefit can come from it.
However, we should emphasize the point we made in our other article on this – that EMDR is still best conducted with a qualified practitioner who can take you through the now very rigorously defined process to make sure trauma is fully processed to resolution and healthier self beliefs are effectively installed in it’s place.
Attempting to self administer EMDR without fully understanding the process you would follow in a structured therapy session can lead you to incompletely or incorrectly adminster the treatment, perhaps resulting in only partial resolution of trauma or none at all.
In rarer cases it can also re-traumatize a person if they start messing around with deeply distressing memories which need to be handled in a safe environment with the support of a trained therapist.
That said, self administering EMDR can also be a very beneficial process for those who understand in detail how the process works and are confident in their ability to handle whatever comes up. Let’s look in more detail at how to self administer EMDR.
Why Might You Want to Self Administer EMDR?
In our article exploring whether EMDR can be self adminstered, we consulted with experienced Australian EMDR practitioner Dr James Alexander to ask him about this. His answer very articulately sums up the issue of self administering:
“Yes, it can be self-administered (as can EFT)- but, not advisable when dealing with anything other than very small t traumas (and the distinction between them and Big T traumas can disappear quickly once you get into them- we are often surprised by how much charge even small t traumas can entail). Overall, I’d suggest that we are not really ‘meant’ to try and address trauma on our own.
So, I’d recommend getting over any reserve and working with a skilled therapist. And keep in mind, there is no necessity for big cathartic responses to EMDR- some people will demonstrate this, others wont, and there is no difference in the outcomes.
People have differing levels of comfort with emotional expression- EMDR is not trying to force any particular mode, just allowing people to respond in a way they feel comfortable with.
Good EMDR happens in the context of a good therapeutic relationship- in which there is mutual trust built up over a period of time. That will generally allow people to freedom to respond in a manner which is natural to them.”
Dr James Alexander
However there are a couple of key of situations where self administering EMDR may make total sense. Here are the main reasons we could think of:
- You can’t find an EMDR therapist in your area.
- Formal EMDR treatment is too expensive for you.
- Something happens in your life that re-awakens an old trauma and puts you back in that distressing “place inside” psychologically and you want some relief from this immediately, not having to wait perhaps a week or more for a therapist to become available.
- Any other situation or life event which awakens a state of anxiety or a “fight or flight” physiological response which you want relief from, can be worked on through the EMDR method.
In these cases it makes total sense to at least attempt to self administer EMDR, since it is better than doing nothing if a trained therapist is not available right away (which they usually aren’t) to help you. If would be silly not to try something to alleviate any psychosomatic symptoms which life events can awaken within you.
If one of these situations applies to you, then let’s look at some resources online which can help you to self administer EMDR to the extent it may be able to provide some relief from symptoms of internal distress, like anxiety and re-kindled trauma.
How to Self Administer EMDR
There are loads of videos online now which provide some kind of bilateral stimulation, usually in the form of some kind of moving dot on the screen for you to follow.
This replicates somewhat what would happen in a formal EMDR session, where a therapist would likely be moving their hand backwards and forwards for you to follow to whilst focusing on a presently held internal distressing state. Providing this outer stimulus is what distracts the mind into “blurring” the distressing memory or state, lessening it’s intensity and hold over the person.
Here is one such video below, which not only provides a dot on screen for you to follow whilst focusing on an internal state, but also incorporates some of the other principles of EMDR into the video, like placing healthier, self empowering beliefs beliefs in place of any processed disturbing memories or states.
Here are some more self adminstered EMDR videos on Youtube, which all follow the same kind of principle of providing something for you to follow on screen whilst focusing on an internal state. Click on each one to pop up the video.
Combining Audio and Visual Bilateral Stimulation
Something else I have also quite recently discovered is that combining visual and audio bilateral stimulation at the same time can also be very useful, and more powerful than just one or the other alone.
This is just a personal observation and may not apply to everyone and all situations. I found that listening to some kind of bilateral stimulation audio recording with a set of headphones – where some of kind of noise is alternating between the left and right ears – whilst also using a visual stimulation and focusing on an internal distressing state had a more noticeable effect than just using a video on it’s own.
Why this is the case is uncertain – perhaps researchers have looked into this. It may simply be that providing even more bilateral stimulation in the form of audio and visual combined causes distressing internal states to be dissolved even quicker and more effectively than just using one method alone.
Again there are loads of videos online claiming to offer some kind of audio bilateral stimulation music. These are in our opinion less reliable than the visual ones. The audio recording I prefer to use is the one from James Alexander’s own website, which costs only $10 to buy and is a proper bilateral stimulation recording.
Follow the link and purchase the Bilateral Stimulation and Nature Sounds recording at the bottom. It is best listened to with a proper set of over the head headphones, not just earplug headphones. I have found that using this in conjunction with a visual EMDR video was very effective at rooting out distressing internal states, more than just a video alone.
Dual Focus of Attention
If you are going to try self adminstering EMDR, it is important to be aware of the nature of bilateral stimulation but also the importance of a dual focus of attention. This refers to the fact that for EMDR to be successful, there has to be a combination of an external bilateral stimulation with an internal state of physiological arousal for it to work. One or the other on it’s own isn’t therapeutic.
In other words, just having an internal state of distress aroused inside you, without doing anything with it in terms of bilateral stimulation, isn’t going to be beneficial. In fact it can be re-traumatizing to bring back past unpleasant experiences without employing some method to process or resolve them.
Conversely, just having an external stimulation, in the form of a therapist moving their hand backwards and forwards or following a dot on a screen, isn’t by itself going to be therapeutic either if there is not a presently held internal state of distress to actually work on with the bilateral stimulation.
Rather, a dual focus of attention is needed, where the person focuses on both the internal state and the external stimulus at the same time that is needed for EMDR to be successful in resolving trauma.
It is precisely this dual focus which essentially distracts the mind/brain into “letting go” of the trauma, lessening it’s intensity in the person’s mind to the point where experiences are seen as just another memory and don’t hold the same psychological power over the person.
In others words, just waking up each morning and watching an EMDR video as part of a routine isn’t likely to be effective if there is nothing actually “live” inside you physiologically in that moment, in the form of some kind of anxiety or “fight/flight” response. There has to be a presently held psychosomatic state for bilateral stimualtion to work on.
In fairness this is another reason why conducting EMDR in a controlled environment with a therapist is preferable to self administering, since in this scenario distressing memories can be safely and gradually tapped back into in a systematic way.
Be Aware of the Full EMDR Process
Another important thing to be aware of is that the full EMDR process involves much more than just eye movements. In the several decades EMDR has been around, it has been formalized into a very clearly defined 8 stage process, of which eye movements are actually only a very small part.
Here is a summary of the general 8 step process of EMDR treatment when done in a formal setting with a qualified practitioner:
- Client History – Identify target memories.
- Preparation – Prepare the client appropriately for the therapy.
- Assessment – Fully assess and evaluate target memories, feelings, beliefs etc.
- Desensitization – Use eye movements or other forms of bilateral simulation to process memories.
- Installation – Install positive beliefs about self to replace negative beliefs and affects associated with memories.
- Body Scan – Eliminate any remaining physiological symptoms with further bilateral stimulation.
- Closure – Return client to safe calm equilibrium as session ends.
- Re-evaluation – Check that all aspects of memory have been fully processed.
See also our detailed article on the EMDR process for a full breakdown of each step in more detail.
Using the EMDR method then it is important to understand that processing the memories with the eye movmement or other bilateral stimulation is only half the job. Newer, healthier, more adaptive and self enhancing beliefs need to be installed on top of any dysfunctional or self defeating beliefs that were associated with any distressing experiences.
For example, any negative self beliefs that were attached to traumatic experiences, like “I’m pathetic”, “I’m a loser”, “I’m powerless” and so on need to be replaced with more self serving beliefs like “I did what I could at the time”, “I am powerful”, “I have options now” and so on.
Therefore it is important to work this installation stage into any self adminstered EMDR you undertake, replacing any negative self beliefs with more adaptive ones once any trauma has been processed with the eye movements.
See a couple of videos below by EMDR founder Francine Shapiro and experienced EMDR therapist James Alexander for in depth explanations of how the EMDR process works.
Self Administered EMDR Programs
There are also some paid self administered EMDR services online which offer you a structured program to follow to self administer the treatment. The most popular of these is the Virtual EMDR program, which offers a step by step guide to self administering EMDR.
They offer you a totally free trial period to try the program, and an added positive feature is that their program is totally free for Veterans and First Responders, two groups who can suffer some of the worst trauma in their lines of work.
We have not tested this program and so are not endorsing or criticizing it, but it is there as an option to pursue if you are considering self administering EMDR and would like a formal structure to follow.