Updated: Oct 13
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has gained widespread recognition for its effectiveness in alleviating distress for individuals who have experienced trauma or are struggling with anxiety or depression. If you don't yet know much about this form of therapy I recommend starting with this blog post: What is EMDR Therapy? before reading on.
In recent years, a more condensed form of EMDR therapy, known as EMDR Intensives, has started to gain popularity with both clients and therapists. This blog post explores the concept of EMDR Intensives. By the end of this you will understanding how they work; their potential benefits and most crucially; whether this approach would be suitable for you based on your current circumstances and mental health.
The Essence of EMDR Intensives:
EMDR Intensives are an accelerated and concentrated form of traditional EMDR therapy. Instead of the standard 60-90 minute weekly sessions, EMDR Intensives involve extended sessions that can last several hours or even a full day. These extended sessions may occur over consecutive days such as over a whole week or weekend, creating an immersive and focused therapeutic experience.
EMDR Intensives can be carried out online or in-person. Some providers also offer them as a retreat.
How EMDR Intensives Work:
There are three key aspects to this approach that differentiates it from weekly therapy sessions:
Extended Sessions: EMDR Intensives typically involve longer therapy sessions of at least 2 or more hours at a time, allowing individuals to delve deeper into the therapeutic process without the constraints of a typical hourly session. This extended timeframe can facilitate a more comprehensive exploration of trauma and the related issues.
Condensed Sessions: Unlike traditional EMDR, where processing might be interrupted and resumed in subsequent sessions after a week-long interval, EMDR Intensives provide a short gap of 24-48 hours between the trauma-processing sessions. This can be especially beneficial for individuals who find it challenging to transition in and out of intense emotional states.
Tight Goals: The short time-frame helps to focus the therapy on tight goals for the treatment.
The combination of all three of these aspects accelerates healing and promotes a more profound transformation.
Benefits of EMDR Intensives:
Rapid Progress: EMDR Intensives offer the potential for quicker progress compared to traditional therapy, as they provide a condensed and focused environment for processing traumatic memories.
Deeper Insights: The extended sessions allow individuals to explore their experiences in greater detail. From clients' feedback to me after their intensives, they often report feeling safer to 'let go' given the luxury of time on their side, allowing them to be explorative which tends to lead to deeper insights and a more thorough understanding of the underlying issues.
Reduced Disruption: Without the distractions of every day life to pull attention away from the therapy goals (which is more likely to happen if therapy is spread out over a long period of time with weekly sessions) we can maintain focus on the goals more easily.
Better Flexibility: Some people find weekly sessions too challenging to devote time to, perhaps due to the juggle or work and family duties, or because they travel or have course deadlines. An EMDR intensive can offer more flexibility, slotting in during a week of leave or academic holidays
Supporting Other Therapy As An Adjunct: If you are already in therapy and you have a good rapport with your therapist that you don't wish to disrupt then EMDR Intensives can be offered as an adjunct to this. This is particularly the case if you and your therapist feel that you've got stuck or plateaued, perhaps have a sense that this comes from some trauma, but they aren't trained in EMDR to help you process this.
Working with a specific therapist: If you wish to work face-to-face with a specialist therapist who is based far from you, the intensive format allows you to travel to them and a way that might not be realistic otherwise.
American expert Dr Ricky Greenwald gives a metaphor that brilliantly sums up the benefits of EMDR Intensives: Imagine you have bald tyres and you take your car to the garage to get them changed. Would you prefer them to change one tyre per week for four weeks or do the job lot in one afternoon? Many people prefer to get to their goals quickly, yet traditional therapy is not set up like this. EMDR Intensives offers a new approach to therapy.
Which Difficulties Can Be Helped With This Approach?
Problematic 'self-sabotage' behaviours that you don't understand but know you want to stop.
Problematic emotional reactions like excessive guilt or frustration that get in the way of things for you.
Recent single-event trauma like an assault, road traffic accident or natural disaster.
Traumatic incidents from your past such as bullying, medical procedures, assault, neglect.
Feared future events e.g. a performance or presentation, sporting event or interview.
Please note that often issues occur as part of a bigger picture which the therapist spends time early on with you to piece together (this is called a formulation). From this the memories that feed into the main area of difficulty are targeted during the intensive, so that you should get an improvement in this, but where there is complexity the intensive will not resolve everything.
What does the Evidence Say About This Approach?
Intensive EMDR therapy is gaining popularity due to the obvious benefits, but the evidence base also shows that is is effective for symptom reduction and helping people to complete the full therapy programme (i.e. reducing therapy drop out rates).
This study, carried out by a team in the Netherlands who have been pioneering this approach, shows that intensive trauma-therapy has similar, or even better, results than weekly therapy for alleviating the symptoms of PTSD, while reducing the risk that patients drop out of therapy before the end of the treatment.
This study combined yoga with intensive (5-day) EMDR therapy and showed reliable improvement in PTSD symptoms in a very short time frame.
This research also shows that an intensive program using EMDR therapy is also a potentially safe and effective treatment alternative for complex PTSD (CPTSD) too.
When is an EMDR Intensive Not Appropriate?
The condensed format of intensive EMDR is often tiring for the client and can stir up strong emotions and body sensations. This means that the therapist needs to carefully assess for suitability early on. Times when it might not be suitable to leap straight into an intensive format of therapy:
1. If you are in the middle of a big unsettling life event and don't have much time, energy or support.
2. If you are physically too unwell, particularly if you fatigue easily.
3. If you are in crisis, which means you are at risk of harming yourself or having suicidal* thoughts. Stabilising work is needed at a time like this, EMDR might be a good fit once you are out of crisis.
4. If you have a tendency to dissociate strongly then your therapist will need to assess with you whether now is the right time for an EMDR Intensive as you may need to do some more stabilisation work in therapy before this.
These issues may not preclude you from EMDR Intensive but they would all warrant a more in-depth conversation with your therapist and some extra preparatory work may be required.
EMDR Intensives represent an exciting evolution in trauma therapy, offering a flexible and accelerated approach to healing. While they may not be suitable for everyone, individuals seeking a more immersive and rapid therapeutic experience may find EMDR Intensives to be a good-fit for their situation.
Are You Considering An EMDR Intensive?
*It you think you are in crisis please see your GP, call 999 or the Samaritans (116 123) so you can get the right support for yourself.