How Many EMDR Sessions For Complex PTSD Treatment?

Most of us have stories and narratives in our lives that we can never forget. It could be a loss of loved ones, accidents, abandonment, witnessing a disaster, various forms of abuse, and the list goes on. We all go through difficult situations and traumatic events—a natural part of the human experience. 

For some people, these memories usually live in the past. Those with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) continue to experience them in the present because of repeated exposure lasting months or even years.

In this article, we delve into how EMDR works, how many sessions are recommended for CPTSD, its effectiveness, and some things you need to consider before starting an EMDR therapy session.

Understanding Complex PTSD and EMDR

In the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the distinct clinical identity of CPTSD and included it as an independent clinical diagnosis.

It shares similar symptoms with the current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) definition, plus three more additional features, including negative self-cognition (e.g., seeing oneself as worthless), emotional dysregulation (e.g., difficulties in controlling anger), and interpersonal or relationship hardships. 

Considering that Complex PTSD and PTSD share similarities in many clinical aspects, the current evidence-based and main treatment option recommended by experts remains trauma-focused treatment.

This includes eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR is a form of therapeutic strategy that helps clients alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. It works by using eye movements and other bilateral stimulation to process overwhelming experiences so that they can be safely discussed and processed.

Number of EMDR Sessions for Complex PTSD

EMDR treatment sessions are expected to be completed between 6-12 sessions, delivered one to twice a week, for 60 to 90 minutes each session, for people with single incident trauma. 

On the other hand, if you are diagnosed with C-PTSD and have experienced multiple traumas that need more time to process, EMDR treatment takes a little longer. Depending on the individual case, you may need 25 to 40 sessions. 

Factors Influencing the Number of EMDR Sessions 

The number and duration of EMDR sessions for people with C-PTSD are highly dependent on many factors, including but not limited to:

  • The severity of the traumatic event: People who are diagnosed with C-PTSD have more complex reactions to traumatic events because of repeated and chronic exposure to them. They may benefit from an extended course of therapy sessions compared to those with PTSD.
  • Complexity of symptoms: Apart from the symptoms of C-PTSD, some may also experience other symptoms associated with another mental condition. Generally, trauma – and stress-related disorders have comorbidities with anxiety, depression, and substance use.
  • Responsiveness to therapy: Several factors affect a client’s responsiveness to EMDR therapy. These include his or her commitment or willingness to engage in the therapy, therapeutic alliance or the quality of relationship built between the therapist and the client, and environmental factors (e.g., family dynamics, working conditions).

What happens in an EMDR session?

EMDR involves the following eight distinct phases to facilitate the reprocessing of overwhelming traumatic experiences until they no longer feel distressed.

Phase 1: History-Taking and Treatment Planning

This initial phase begins with a discussion between you and your therapist about your life experiences, including past trauma and present symptoms. The gathered details will be used to construct a treatment plan and identify treatment goals. 

Phase 2: Preparation

During this phase, your therapist will explain how the entire EMDR process works. You and your therapist will then work on developing coping skills to manage distress that may come up during and between sessions. Some mindfulness and relaxation techniques may be introduced.

Phase 3: Assessment 

This phase of treatment focuses on identifying specific traumatic events to be processed during the session. Your therapist will also help you recognize the images, feelings, beliefs, and sensations associated with the traumatic memories.

Phase 4: Desensitization

In the fourth phase, the core of EMDR therapy happens. Your therapist will guide you on bilateral stimulation (e.g., eye movements, tapping, sounds) while you are simultaneously recalling the traumatic event. This phase allows you to reprocess your traumatic memories and create new images, feelings, beliefs, and sensations that are more adaptive than the previous ones. 

Phase 5: Installation

During this phase, your therapist will help you strengthen positive beliefs you want to associate with the target event. The goal is to ‘install’ new positive beliefs and replace negative ones. Your therapist will guide you in integrating these new belief systems into your self-concept and emotional responses.

Phase 6: Body Scan

This phase of treatment focuses on identifying any physical tension or discomfort associated with the target event. Your therapist will ask you to hold on to the traumatic memory and newly constructed positive beliefs while scanning your body from head to toe. Any tensions or discomforts felt are also processed in this phase.

Phase 7: Closure

In the seventh phase of EMDR, your therapist ensures that you are grounded and in a state of calmness before leaving the therapy sessions. The reprocessing of the target traumatic memory is considered complete when you feel neutral about it, you can integrate the positive beliefs, and there is no physical tension or body discomfort felt. 

If the traumatic memory is not completely processed, your therapist will instruct you that processing may continue during subsequent sessions. 

Phase 8: Re-evaluation:

Before subsequent sessions begin, your therapist re-evaluates your progress made in the previous session. Your therapist may examine the remaining cognitive, emotional, and somatic distress. If needed, additional processing may be suggested.

How Effective is EMDR?

Over the years, scientific evidence has continued to show that EMDR treatment is highly effective in treating trauma-related disorders. Specifically, in various meta-analyses and randomized controlled trials, EMDR reduced PTSD and trauma-related symptoms.

Along with other evidence-based therapies (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy), EMDR is recognized as a gold standard treatment for trauma-related conditions.

Things to Know Before Starting EMDR Therapy

Therapist Qualification

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that requires intensive skill before someone can perform it. Only a few people worldwide have undergone intensive EMDR training and hold a certification to perform EMDR.

Be aware when selecting your therapist because receiving EMDR from an unqualified person may result in more harm than good. Here at Luxe Recovery, you are assured that our clinicians are licensed, have undergone intensive training, and are Certified EMDR Therapists.

Potential Risks and Benefits

While the goal of EMDR is to process the disturbing event to reduce the associated symptoms, you should be aware that there is a potential risk, such as a temporary increase in distress during sessions.

In cases like this, our clinicians at Luxe Recoverywill help you create a safety plan and teach coping skills to manage the distress that may trigger during the session.

Discover EMDR Therapy with Luxe Recovery

When it comes to treating Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, here at Luxe Recovery LA, we recognize that each client is unique. Hence, we are dedicated to providing you with an individualized treatment plan tailored to your needs, preferences, and goals.

If you are or know someone who is having difficulties managing their trauma, contact us to experience what it means to be taken care of with comfort, luxury, and excellence. 

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