EMDR Therapy for Bipolar: A Comprehensive Guide

EMDR Therapy For Bipolar

Bipolar disorder, a condition marked by extreme mood swings, presents a complex challenge for those who live with it. Managing the highs and lows can be an ongoing struggle. However, there’s hope on the horizon, and it comes in the form of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. In this blog, we will explore the concept of EMDR therapy and its potential benefits for those living with bipolar disorder.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, often referred to as manic-depressive illness, is characterized by alternating periods of manic highs and depressive lows. These mood swings can disrupt daily life and relationships.

Bipolar disorder affects not only the individual’s mood but also their energy levels, sleep patterns, and overall quality of life. The unpredictability of these mood swings can be particularly challenging.

The Need for Effective Treatments

Treating bipolar disorder is complex, as it requires addressing both the manic and depressive phases. Medications are commonly used, but they may not be sufficient on their own.

Therapy plays a crucial role in managing bipolar disorder, offering coping strategies and emotional support. EMDR therapy is one such option gaining attention.

EMDR and Bipolar Disorder

EMDR therapy may help individuals with bipolar disorder manage traumatic experiences that contribute to their condition. Addressing underlying trauma can potentially stabilize mood swings.

EMDR therapy can complement other treatments for bipolar disorder, such as medication and traditional talk therapy. It offers a holistic approach to managing the condition.

The Process of EMDR Therapy for Bipolar

The Process of EMDR Therapy for Bipolar

Below, we outline the process of EMDR therapy for bipolar disorder:

Initial Assessment and Preparation:

    • Diagnosis and Evaluation: Before beginning EMDR therapy, a licensed therapist conducts a comprehensive assessment to determine if the individual is a suitable candidate for this approach. They assess the individual’s bipolar disorder diagnosis, current stability, and any co-occurring conditions.
    • Informed Consent: The therapist explains the EMDR process, its goals, and what to expect during sessions. The individual gives informed consent to proceed.

Treatment Planning: Based on the assessment, the therapist and the individual collaboratively create a treatment plan. They identify specific target issues or distressing memories related to bipolar disorder symptoms and their associated emotions, beliefs, and physical sensations.

Preparation Phase: The therapist helps the individual develop coping skills to manage emotional distress during EMDR sessions. These skills may include relaxation techniques and grounding exercises.

Assessment Phase: The individual is asked to focus on a specific distressing memory or thought related to their bipolar disorder. They identify the emotions, beliefs, and physical sensations associated with this memory.

Desensitization Phase:

    • During this phase, the individual engages in bilateral stimulation while focusing on the distressing memory. Bilateral stimulation can take various forms, such as following the therapist’s hand movements with their eyes, tapping, or auditory cues (e.g., headphones emitting alternating sounds).
    • The goal is to process the memory by reducing its emotional charge. This is achieved by allowing the mind to make connections and associations, often resulting in a decrease in the emotional intensity of the memory.

Installation Phase: In this phase, the therapist helps the individual replace negative beliefs and emotions associated with the distressing memory with more positive and adaptive ones. This may involve guided imagery or cognitive restructuring.

Body Scan Phase: The individual checks for any remaining physical tension or discomfort associated with the memory. The therapist guides them in releasing any residual physical distress.

Closure Phase: The therapist ensures that the individual is in a stable emotional state before concluding the session. This may involve relaxation exercises and ensuring that the individual feels grounded and safe.

Reevaluation Phase:

    • In subsequent EMDR sessions, the therapist assesses the individual’s progress and addresses any additional distressing memories or beliefs related to bipolar disorder.
    • The treatment continues until the individual and therapist feel that the target issues have been sufficiently processed and resolved.

Finding a Qualified EMDR Therapist

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to find a skilled and experienced EMDR therapist:

  • Specialization in EMDR: Look for a therapist who has received formal training in EMDR. EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) is a reputable organization that provides training and certification for EMDR therapists. You can visit their website to find a directory of EMDR-certified therapists in your area.
  • Referrals from Healthcare Providers: Reach out to your psychiatrist, primary care physician, or current mental health provider for recommendations. They may be able to refer you to a qualified EMDR therapist or provide a list of mental health professionals in your network who offer EMDR services.
  • Online Directories: Use online therapist directories and search engines to find EMDR therapists in your area. Websites like Therapymantra and Mantracare allow you to search for therapists based on their specialty, location, and accepted insurance.
  • Ask for Recommendations: Seek recommendations from friends, family members, or support groups who have undergone EMDR therapy or received mental health treatment. Personal referrals can provide valuable insights into a therapist’s effectiveness and approach.
  • Interview Potential Therapists: Once you’ve identified potential therapists, schedule initial consultations or phone interviews to assess their suitability. Prepare a list of questions to ask, including their experience with EMDR and their approach to treating bipolar disorder.
  • Verify Insurance Coverage: If you have health insurance, contact your insurance provider to verify whether EMDR therapy is covered under your plan. If it is, ask for a list of in-network EMDR therapists to minimize out-of-pocket expenses.

Potential Drawbacks and Considerations

When considering Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for bipolar disorder, it’s crucial to be aware of potential drawbacks and considerations to make an informed decision about whether this treatment approach is suitable for you. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. Stability and Current State:
    • EMDR therapy may not be appropriate for individuals who are currently in the midst of a severe manic or depressive episode or who are emotionally unstable. Stability is important to engage effectively in EMDR sessions.
  2. Intense Emotional Processing:
    • EMDR therapy can lead to the reprocessing of distressing memories and intense emotions. It’s essential to be prepared for the emotional intensity that may arise during sessions and have coping strategies in place to manage it.
  3. Not a Standalone Treatment:
    • EMDR therapy should not be considered a standalone treatment for bipolar disorder. It primarily focuses on addressing emotional and psychological aspects, and it does not directly treat the core symptoms of bipolar disorder or replace medications or other treatments prescribed by a healthcare provider.
  4. Varied Response:
    • Individual responses to EMDR therapy can vary. While many individuals experience significant benefits, others may not respond as positively. It’s important to maintain open communication with your therapist and adjust the treatment plan as needed.
  5. Availability and Accessibility:
    • Finding a qualified EMDR therapist may be challenging in some regions, and insurance coverage for EMDR therapy can vary. Be prepared to research and potentially travel to find a therapist who meets your needs.
  6. Trauma Sensitivity:
    • EMDR therapy often involves revisiting distressing memories, which can be traumatic. Individuals with bipolar disorder may have a history of trauma, so it’s crucial to work with a therapist who is skilled in trauma-informed care and can create a safe therapeutic environment.

Is EMDR Therapy Right for You?

Is EMDR Therapy Right for You?

Here are some factors to consider when evaluating whether EMDR therapy is a suitable treatment option:

  • Diagnosis and Current State: Consider your bipolar disorder diagnosis and current mental health status. EMDR therapy is typically not recommended for individuals who are amid severe manic or depressive episodes or who are emotionally unstable. Stability is essential for effective EMDR sessions.
  • Treatment Goals: Clarify your treatment goals and what you hope to achieve with EMDR therapy. Are you looking to address trauma-related symptoms, improve emotional regulation, or work on specific distressing memories? Understanding your objectives can help guide your decision.
  • Trauma History: Reflect on your trauma history, if applicable. EMDR therapy is particularly effective in treating conditions related to trauma. If you have a history of traumatic experiences that contribute to your bipolar disorder symptoms, EMDR may be a valuable addition to your treatment plan.
  • Medication and Other Therapies: Consider your current treatment regimen, including any medications and other forms of therapy you may be receiving. EMDR therapy should be seen as complementary to traditional treatments for bipolar disorder, not as a replacement.
  • Emotional Resilience: Assess your emotional resilience and readiness for EMDR therapy. EMDR sessions may bring up intense emotions and distressing memories. Ensure that you have coping strategies in place to manage these emotions effectively.


In the realm of bipolar disorder treatment, EMDR therapy offers a unique approach that delves into the underlying traumas contributing to mood swings. While it may not be a standalone solution, it has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for those with bipolar disorder. If you or a loved one are considering EMDR therapy, consult with a qualified therapist to explore its suitability for your specific situation.

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