Does Virtual EMDR Work? Here’s How it Compares to In-Person EMDR

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

Over the past 25 years, millions of people have recovered from trauma and debilitating mental conditions with the help of EMDR therapy. Though EMDR may not seem as familiar as other forms of recovery, its results continue to be life-changing. With modern technology, this therapy can be performed virtually in the comfort of one’s home.

What is Virtual EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment most commonly used for individuals experiencing PTSD, depression, and anxiety. This form of therapy was originally developed in the 1970s to help treat trauma experienced by combat veterans. Since then, EMDR methods have proven to help people heal from trauma and emotional distress of all kinds. 

EMDR therapy focuses on three separate time periods: the past, present, and future, with traumatic memories given primary attention. The eight-phase treatment approach addresses and reframes the way the brain processes such events.

Related article: The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy

Similar to the way a person undergoes physical therapy to speed up recovery from an injury, EMDR can help the brain recover its ability to accurately distinguish between trauma in the past and the reality of the present. 

Virtual EMDR is just like any other type of online therapy; the client talks to the therapist via video call or phone call, and undergoes the same process as they would in person.

EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment for trauma, depression, and anxiety

What is Bilateral Stimulation?

Lateral eye movements, hand-tapping, and auditory sound stimulation are all stimuli therapists use to create new associations in the brain’s pathways and act as desensitization tools. These are all considered types of bilateral stimulation, and can be done in-person or virtually.

Bilateral stimulation crosses the midline of the body—the centerline of the central nervous system. This enables both sides of the brain to work together and fully process distressing incidents, emotions and memories. Trained therapists can carefully combine these elements to make effective, personalized treatment protocols that best benefit each individual client. 

Who Does Virtual EMDR Benefit Most?

Throughout the pandemic, the world realized how many day-to-day tasks can be completed from the comfort of home. Virtual EMDR can be ideal for individuals who frequently travel, are not able to physically go to a therapy office, or who have busy or private lifestyles. Modern technology allows those seeking EMDR treatment to still reap the benefits of EMDR, even when it is administered virtually. 

Virtual EMDR can save time and offer convenience to clients. It is also discreet, and there are often fewer appointment cancellations. Additionally, those who have triggers outside of home may find that doing EMDR from the comfort of their home helps them begin each session with less anxiety. 

The one limitation to virtual EMDR is that you will want a quiet and private space to get the most out of your EMDR session. For those who live in busy or noise-filled surroundings, or have an unreliable wifi connection, virtual treatment may not be the most feasible option. 

Virtual EMDR can be ideal for individuals who frequently travel, aren't able to physically go into the therapy office, or who have busy or private lifestyles

How Is Doing EMDR Online Different Than In-Person?

The end-goal and processes for virtual EMDR sessions will be the same, regardless of whether they are in-person or remote. The only difference between the two is the way the stimuli is delivered. When in person, the therapist will typically use a light bar or their own hands to deliver a stimulus. However, in a virtual EMDR setting, a client must do their own bilateral tapping. 

Does Virtual EMDR Actually Work? 

Virtual EMDR therapy became more widespread during the pandemic as the need for such forms of therapy became more and more evident. During the pandemic, a Chinese study showed that isolated individuals were suffering from anxiety, depression, and the potential to develop PTSD due to the stress, fear, isolation, and drastic lifestyle changes. 

The ability for virtual

EMDR to deliver life-changing healing through a virtual medium was a game-changer for so many people unable to go to therapy in-person. 

Reports during this time showed that virtual EMDR was a plausible way to successfully treat complex trauma and other types of pain from a distance. The population involved in this study reported drastic reductions in PTSD and anxiety symptoms.

How Can You Still Practice Bilateral Stimulation in Virtual EMDR?

Software and EMDR tapping methods can be effectively used to practice bilateral stimulation while performing virtual EMDR. In addition to this, the butterfly hug, also known as butterfly tapping, is another form of alternating bilateral stimulation. 

The butterfly hug is a desensitization technique that enables the brain to reprocess traumatic experiences. This self-hug can be performed both in-person or remotely. This action aids as a sense of safety while processing trauma and can also be used outside of EMDR treatment to calm and ground oneself.  

To give yourself a butterfly hug:

  1. Cross arms over your chest, with fingertips touching your collarbone 
  2. Close your eyes, or slightly close them, focusing on the tip of your nose 
  3. Focus on taking relaxed, deep breaths, finding a rhythmic pattern 
  4. Gently tap your hands like a butterfly on your chest
  5. Continue until anxiety lessens or until therapist specifies
virtual EMDR can include the use of butterfly hugs. Cross your arms over your chest and touch your collerbone with your fingertips. Close your eyes and focus attention on the tip of your nos. Take relaxed, deep breaths. Tap your fingers like a butterfly on your chest.

How Do I Prepare For A Virtual EMDR Session?

Technical errors can be unavoidable at times, but there are steps that can prevent them and help make the most of your experience. Prior to an online EMDR session, it is important to remember to: 

  • Make sure you have a stable internet connection 
  • Test out your hardware and software in advance
  • Create a productive environment by removing all potential distractions or triggers
  • Make sure you are in a quiet and comfortable space
  • Practice getting relaxed prior to your session 
  • Prepare notes with focal points or questions that you may have for your therapist

How Do I Find A Virtual EMDR Therapist? 

EMDR therapy can be a life-changing form of treatment for many individuals. Though EMDR therapy is considered a newer form of therapy, its reputation for efficacy continues to grow with each report and controlled research study. 

The EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) offers a therapist directory to help you find an EMDR provider in your area. Though EMDR may seem complicated, our team here at Inner Balance Counseling is ready and willing to answer your questions and help you determine if it is a good first for you. 

Contact us to learn more about EMDR, our approach, and whether this transformative mental health therapy is right for you.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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