How Long Does EMDR Therapy Take?

min read
LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Therapist

Alex is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She earned a Master of Social Work degree from the USC with a concentration in Children and Families and a sub-concentration in Military Social Work.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a distinctive and powerful psychotherapeutic approach designed to alleviate psychological stress. It's particularly known for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions. The duration of EMDR therapy varies significantly among individuals, depending on various factors such as the complexity of their issues and personal history. This article delves into the intricacies of EMDR therapy, its phases, session expectations, and the path to achieving therapeutic results.

Key Takeaways

  • EMDR therapy typically begins with one or two consultation sessions to assess suitability and address patient questions.
  • The therapy includes eight phases, with session lengths ranging from 50 to 180 minutes, which may extend beyond traditional therapy timeframes.
  • The number of EMDR sessions required varies by individual, influenced by the nature and severity of the trauma, as well as personal life circumstances.
  • While some patients may notice improvements within a few sessions, others with more complex histories may need longer-term therapy.
  • EMDR can be integrated with other therapeutic approaches and is also available as an online therapy option, providing flexibility in treatment.

Understanding the EMDR Journey

Initial Consultation: Setting the Stage for Healing

The journey to healing through EMDR therapy begins with a crucial first step: the initial consultation. This is where we, as therapists, meet you, understand your story, and lay the groundwork for the personalized treatment that follows. The pre-therapy assessment and consultation are essential in tailoring EMDR to your unique needs.

During this stage, you can expect to:

  • Complete necessary paperwork, including consent forms and intake questionnaires.
  • Engage in a discussion about your therapeutic goals and any concerns you might have.
  • Establish a collaborative relationship with your therapist, built on trust and mutual understanding.

If you're dealing with a single traumatic event from adulthood, you might find relief in under five hours of therapy. However, for those of us with multiple traumas or complex histories, the road may be longer.

The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy

Embarking on the EMDR journey, we've found that understanding the eight structured phases is crucial for setting realistic expectations. Here's a brief overview of what you might encounter:

  • Phase 1: History-taking
  • Phase 2: Preparing the client
  • Phase 3: Assessing the target memory
  • Phases 4-7: Processing the memory to an adaptive resolution
  • Phase 8: Evaluating treatment results

As we progress through these stages, it's important to recognize that each phase plays a pivotal role in the healing process. Initially, you may experience distress, such as anxiety or confusion, but as you move through the phases, the goal is to reach a state where you feel calm or neutral about past experiences.

While the phases are structured, the journey is deeply personal. Each session is a step towards transforming painful memories into a source of strength. As someone who has navigated this path, I can attest to the profound changes it can bring.

Personal History and Its Role in Treatment Duration

When we embark on the journey of EMDR therapy, we often wonder, how long does emdr take? The answer is not one-size-fits-all. Our personal history plays a pivotal role in determining the length of treatment. For those of us with a single traumatic event, the process may be relatively quick, often requiring less than five hours of therapy. However, for individuals like myself, who have experienced multiple traumas, the timeline extends considerably.

The depth and complexity of our past experiences shape the course of our EMDR therapy. It's a personalized path where each session is a step towards reshaping our memories, emotions, and perspectives.

Navigating Through EMDR Sessions

What to Expect in a Typical EMDR Session

When we embark on an EMDR session, we're stepping into a space that's both challenging and transformative. As someone who has gone through the process, I can share that it's not uncommon to experience intense physical reactions, such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating, or nausea. These are typical reactions as you delve into the memories that have been holding you back.

During the session, your therapist will guide you through recalling the disturbing experience, focusing on the sensory details and emotions tied to it. It's a journey through your past, but with a compassionate professional by your side, aiming to reprocess these memories in a healthier way.

Here's a glimpse into the structure of an EMDR session:

  • Phase 1: History-taking
  • Phase 2: Preparing the client
  • Phase 3: Assessing the target memory
  • Phases 4-7: Processing the memory
  • Phase 8: Evaluating treatment results

Each session can last anywhere from 50 to 180 minutes, and it's a time when you might uncover memories you weren't even aware of. It's a process that requires an open mind and trust in the therapeutic journey. Remember, the path to healing isn't linear, and it's okay if some sessions feel more overwhelming than others.

The Length of EMDR Sessions Compared to Traditional Therapy

When we explore the question of how long are EMDR sessions, it's important to understand that they can vary significantly from traditional therapy sessions. In our experience, EMDR session length often extends beyond the typical 50-minute hour that many are accustomed to in conventional therapy.

Here's a quick comparison to give you a clearer picture:

  • Traditional therapy sessions: Usually 50 minutes
  • EMDR sessions: Can range from 50 to 180 minutes

This extended time allows for the unique processes of EMDR to unfold, which can include the identification of a specific problem, recalling related memories, and guiding you through the dual attention stimuli. As a client, you might find that this additional time helps in addressing the disturbing experiences more thoroughly within a single session.

Adjusting the Pace: When EMDR Feels Overwhelming

As we navigate the healing process with EMDR, it's not uncommon to encounter moments that feel overwhelming. It's essential to listen to your body and mind and adjust the pace accordingly. EMDR is a powerful tool, but it's also intense, and sometimes, the emotional responses can be strong. Here's what we've found helpful:

  • Take deep breaths and allow yourself a moment of pause during the session.
  • Communicate openly with your therapist about your comfort level.
  • Plan a soothing activity post-session to help transition back to your daily routine.

If you find the sessions too challenging, it's perfectly okay to speak up. Your therapist can slow down the process or even pause it. Healing isn't a race, and it's crucial to proceed at a pace that feels manageable for you. After all, the goal is to emerge from EMDR feeling stronger and more resilient, not to be overwhelmed by the journey.

The Path to Results with EMDR Therapy

Factors Influencing the Number of Sessions Needed

When we embark on the EMDR journey, we often wonder how many sessions it will take to feel a significant change. It's a journey that's as unique as we are, and several factors play a crucial role in determining the length of our therapy. The nature and severity of the trauma we're dealing with is a primary factor. For some, progress is swift, while for others, it's a more gradual process.

Our individual differences, such as resilience and coping mechanisms, also shape our experience. The therapeutic relationship we build with our EMDR therapist is another cornerstone that can influence the pace of our healing. It's essential to have a therapist we trust and feel comfortable with, as this bond can greatly affect our progress.

Co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or depression, can also impact the number of sessions needed. It's important to discuss these with our therapist to tailor the treatment to our specific needs. Here's a list of factors that can influence the duration of EMDR therapy:

  • Nature and severity of the trauma
  • Individual resilience and coping mechanisms
  • Quality of the therapeutic relationship
  • Presence of co-occurring conditions

Recognizing Progress: How to Gauge Improvement

As we navigate through the EMDR journey, it's crucial to recognize the milestones we've achieved. Tracking our progress is not only motivating but also essential for adjusting the treatment plan to our evolving needs. We often start by setting realistic goals, which serve as benchmarks for our healing process.

Here's a simple way to gauge improvement:

  • Have the painful emotions associated with the memory lessened?
  • Are physical sensations during recall less intense?
  • Is there a reduction in intrusive thoughts or images?
  • Do I feel a shift in distressing self-beliefs or core values?


Reflecting on my journey with EMDR therapy, I've come to appreciate that the path to healing is deeply personal and varies greatly from one individual to another. While some may find solace and progress within a few sessions, others, like myself, may discover that it takes a longer commitment to work through complex histories and traumas. It's important to approach EMDR with an open mind and patience, understanding that the number of sessions needed is not a reflection of one's strength or the severity of their experiences, but rather a testament to the uniqueness of their healing process. If you're considering EMDR, remember that it's a collaborative effort with your therapist, and together, you'll navigate the pace and progress that's right for you. And if EMDR doesn't resonate with you, there are many other therapeutic paths to explore. The key is to keep moving forward towards greater well-being, one step at a time.

Ready to Begin Your Healing Journey?

If you're interested in exploring how EMDR therapy can help you overcome traumatic experiences and foster personal growth, we invite you to reach out to us at Thrive In Life Therapy. We offer a free consultation to discuss your needs and determine if our approach is the right fit for you—no commitments, just a conversation to explore possibilities together.

Discover more about our EMDR therapy services and how we can support your path to healing by visiting our EMDR therapy page.

Take the first step towards transforming your life. Contact us today and let’s see how we can thrive together.

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