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By Deb Kennard, PTI Founder

Virtual EMDR Benefits and Considerations

In 2020 we experienced a global pandemic crisis threw many into panic mode and it threw some of us into action mode. Crisis is an opportunity for growth and change. The Personal Transformation Institute, PTI, had multiple in-person training events scheduled across the country and we had a major shift to make. We were successful in that shift and switched over to virtual online EMDR 6-day training events. We were concerned about keeping up our high standards of quality and we were surprised and delighted that the virtual online EMDR 6-day trainings were even more successful and effective than in-person trainings. Our 6-day EMDR trainings all include the S.A.F.E. approach, Safety and Attachment Focused EMDR.

EMDR training and EMDR therapy have many things in common. At least 20 of the 50 hours of the EMDR 6-day training are set aside as practicum experience. So the benefit of being trained in the virtual environment is you also receive training in how to administer and receive EMDR therapy virtually. Prior to 2020 many clinicians believed this was not possible and we have seen that virtual therapy and virtual training are convenient, effective and provide increased accessibility.

Benefits of virtual EMDR

Convenience: Virtual EMDR training can now be accessed from anywhere in the world. The clinician just needs access to a computer and internet.
Accessibility: Virtual EMDR therapy and training are a great option for people who live in rural areas or people who have mobility issues or environmental sensitivities. Cost-effectiveness is also a consideration in accessibility. Lack of travel expenses and time off for travel make virtual training desirable for agencies and individuals.
More options: Clinicians can choose which training best fits their style and needs with a larger range of providers. The same is true for choosing a clinician to work with virtually, clients are not limited to providers in their town and can choose from a wider variety of mental health providers in their state.

Considerations in virtual EMDR

Research has shown that virtual EMDR is just as effective as in-person EMDR. However, some clinicians are still feeling confused about how to apply EMDR in a virtual environment. Many clinicians were trained at an in-person training and have not been effectively trained to provide virtual EMDR therapy.

Phases 1 & 2: Phases 1 and 2, history and preparation phase for virtual EMDR therapy are important and often misunderstood in the virtual environment. These first 2 phases of the 8 phases of EMDR are intended to gather information about the client and begin the treatment planning. The SAFE approach uses a lens of safety and attachment throughout the phases and in the first 2 phases we are looking at the clients history and current strengths and resources based on attachment patterns. To help the client develop somatic resources, how to use body awareness and action to go from upset to calm, is different but very effective online. In addition to these resources practicing and preparing for technical difficulties is added to this phase.
Phases 3-8: In order for phases 3-8 to go smoothly, phases 1 and 2 need to be thorough and comprehensive. In addition to that there are various alternatives to the eye movements and the way they are administered in virtual therapy vs. in-person therapy.

Specific areas, additions and techniques:

Exploring the client’s current resources includes the exploration of the client’s ability to set boundaries. The virtual environment offers an opportunity to introduce this that will also help create a safe environment for the therapy process. What boundaries have they created for the therapy space to make it private and comfortable? How do they know it is safe, what tells them that?
Using the camera and or unexpected disconnection to explore attachment experiences. Things happen and when they do it is an opportunity. Whatever happens in the therapy session, especially the unexpected, is an opportunity to explore what is here.
How someone shows up on the screen is often an indication of how they show up in the world. Instead of correcting or asking the client to change the way they are on the screen, notice and explore what it here. This is a great opportunity to explore current and needed resources and client regulation.
Practice various ways to have the client experience the bilateral stimulation in a virtual environment. Don’t be afraid to be creative with the BLS in the reprocessing phase of EMDR. Drumming on a drum or a desk, using technology, bilateral squeezing and self-hugging by the client or the traditional two-finger movements across the screen can all be used in the virtual environment.

In conclusion

Virtual EMDR, whether it is an EMDR training or an EMDR therapy session can be effective, convenient and cost-effective if you make some adjustments to the process. Utilizing the strengths of the client as well as the opportunities of the new environment are key to success with virtual therapy. Change can be difficult but it can also offer surprising opportunities for new ways of offering healing to a wider population. Check out all of the SAFE EMDR 6-day training options!

Check out our Genius Lounge for more information on this and other SAFE EMDR topics!

EMDRIA also offers many virtual EMDR resources. Here is a guideline to virtual EMDR poster! Here is the EMDRIA report on Virtual EMDR Guidelines.