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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): The Phases & Benefits of this Healing Therapeutic Technique

EMDR is an approach designed to help people process and heal from distressing and traumatic experiences.

It was developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Francine Shapiro and has gained much recognition ever since. Nowadays, EMDR is considered an effective treatment for many conditions, such as anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other mental health challenges.


EMDR uses bilateral stimulation of the brain, which is achieved through tapping, eye movements, or different sounds. The purpose of this stimulation is to facilitate the brain’s natural processing of unpleasant memories and emotions, allowing those memories to be reprocessed in a less distressing manner. The eye movements also facilitate emotional healing and cognitive restructuring.


The concept of Adaptive Information Processing is the theory behind EMDR. It explains that emotional problems, including trauma symptoms, happen because the brain cannot process and comprehend experiences that are scary, sad, anxiety-inducing, or threatening. EMDR helps the brain to reprocess disturbing memories so the affected person is not as emotionally triggered.

Below we’ll discuss the important principles of EMDR and the healing effects it provides.

EMDR proceeds through 8 different phases that guide clients through the process of addressing and resolving traumatic memories and related symptoms.


Stage 1 —Patient History: The therapist will do an initial assessment to gather the client’s history, current mental health symptoms, and the contents of specific traumatic events that the client has experienced.


Stage 2 —Preparation: The therapist educates the client about the process of EMDR. This allows people to know what to expect, and feel safe throughout the therapy, fostering trust between the therapist and client.


Stage 3 —Assessment: The client identifies specific target memories or traumatic experiences to be processed during EMDR sessions.


Stage 4 —Desensitization: The client is guided to recall traumatic memories while engaging in bilateral stimulation, which occurs through side-to-side eye movements. This is how the emotional distress associated with traumatic memories is reduced with EMDR.


Stage 5 —Installation: Positive beliefs and emotions are reinforced during the installation phase, as the client replaces negative self-perceptions with more positive and adaptive ones.


Stage 6 —Body Scan: As the session comes to a close, the therapist helps the client identify and release any physical tension or discomfort associated with recalling traumatic memories.


Stage 7 —Debriefing and Enclosure: This stage involves the therapist making sure that the client is emotionally stable and grounded before concluding the session.


Stage 8 —Re-evaluation: In the final phase, the therapist assesses progress made and addresses any remaining issues or memories that may require further processing.

Many clinical studies and research results have supported the effectiveness of EMDR in treating many different mental health disorders.

Clients report significant reductions in symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and emotional reactivity after completing the treatment. EMDR has become a widely used tool in psychotherapy for trauma and other chronic and severe mental health concerns. By guiding clients through the phases of EMDR, the goal is to reduce emotional distress, replace negative beliefs, and promote emotional healing and improved quality of life.

Contact me today if you are interested in learning more about how EMDR might benefit you on your wellness journey.

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Mind Spruce, PLLC

Heather Dakki, LMSW


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