Skip to content

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that is gaining widespread popularity because of it’s high success levels among mental health patients. EMDR therapy is used to relieve the stress of those that have been through many different types of trauma. Treating psychological trauma and working through traumatic memories is the first step towards improving mental health.

According to the American Psychological Association, EMDR therapy is “A structured therapy that encourages the patient to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories.” The earlier forms of psychotherapy once took several years to make an impact but single-trauma victims can be cured of their posttraumatic stress disorder in a fraction of the time with the help of EMDR therapy. The severity of the traumatic experiences or traumatic events determines how many sessions are necessary to help each victim heal. These sessions are used to execute the eight phases of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment. These phases are broken up into three parts that focus on the past, present, and future of each patient.

Whether you are a patient seeking out mental health services for treating symptoms of traumatic stress, a therapist who wants to learn other forms of effective treatment for trauma, or an EMDR therapist looking to learn more, you have come to right place. Continue reading to fully understand, what is EMDR?

Why Would Someone Need EMDR Therapy?

Unfortunately, most individuals have or will have experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime. There are varying degrees of trauma and quite frankly, some trauma cannot be worked through alone in order to live a happy and free life. Someone who is seeking the help of an EMDR therapist may be struggling with the psychological and physical symptoms as well as mental health problems that are known to follow distressing events. Some common conditions that may be helped by EMDR therapy include:

  • Dissociative Disorder
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Panic Disorder

According to traumatic stress studies, when trauma remains untreated or is “brushed under the rug” it will likely lead to an anxiety disorder, acute stress disorder, adult post traumatic stress disorder, and other trauma related disorders. It may also lead to physical symptoms stemming from psychological pain. EMDR treatment is a very helpful cognitive behavioral therapy for anyone suffering from the mental or physical pain that they have been left with after being faced with trauma at any point in their life.

Featured Programs

Initial Phases

In a typical EMDR therapy session, the initial phases may be intimidating for someone who is seeking out help for treating trauma, but they are important. The first three phases set the foundation for the entire treatment and are dedicated to assessing traumatic experiences and creating new associative links. The first phase allows the therapist and client to work together identifying past events that initially caused the emotional distress. The second phase is used to teach the client stress reduction techniques to effectively cope with distress whenever it may arise. The second phase is also used to build a bond between the therapist and the client. The third phase allows the client to process those negative memories and verbalize those emotions. In the same way, they must learn to link those memories to another verbalization with some sort of positive belief and indication of the client’s power or control.

Secondary Phases

The fourth phase is where the eye movement desensitization part of the therapy comes into play. This phase is dedicated to desensitization which requires the client to focus on the target memory that triggers the undesired responses and identify other associations to that memory. The fifth phase is considered installation because the goal is for the client to accept the truth of those positive cognitions created in the third phase. The sixth phase is the body scan and it requires the client to address those negative memories once again but with the intention of identifying any tension or PTSD symptoms lingering in the body due to remembering the experience. A successful EDMR session would end without any resulting body tension.

Final Phases

The seventh phase is for closure and is used to make sure that the client leaves feeling better than they did upon arrival. If the client and therapist are unable to complete the processing of the traumatic event, the therapist will go over stress reduction techniques with the client to help keep them calm. According to the EDMR International Association, this phase is essential for the client and allows them to feel a sense of control outside of the therapy session. The eighth phase is a re-evaluation and it actually happens at the beginning of every session in order to make sure that the progress has been maintained and to take note of any areas that need to be improved.

While EMDR therapy can heal the clients faster than several other types of therapy, the main focus of this process is to help clients deal with traumatic experiences in a natural and healthy way. Focusing too much on speeding through the phases can easily allow important memories to go unprocessed. When done properly, EMDR can have amazing results and provide enormous amounts of relief to victims of psychological trauma.

The eight phases of an EMDR practice may seem like a lot and to be honest, they are! However, this treatment process has been extensively researched and is continually proving that it can treat mental health conditions, allowing people to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Related Resources:

Five Conditions Helped by EMDR
Is “Brainspotting” a Safe and Effective Therapy?
10 Ways to Prepare for Your First Counseling Session
5 Conferences for Private Practice Counselors