The 8 Phases of EMDR Explained

Maybe you’ve tried traditional talk therapy before, but you didn’t find it very useful for processing trauma. Or perhaps you’ve always been hesitant to talk to a therapist about your past trauma. You don’t want to dig deep into the details of your past with a stranger. Plus, you worry that reliving those moments vividly will send you spiraling again. The idea of being “re-traumatized” in therapy has prevented you from seeking the help you need.

If you relate to these concerns about therapy, you may want to consider pursuing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This form of therapy is vastly different from talk therapy. It’s a highly effective approach for helping people heal from trauma without having to reopen old wounds. Let’s explore each of the eight stages of EMDR.

1. History Taking

When you start EMDR therapy, your new therapist will ask you to share a few details about your current symptoms, any previous work you’ve done with therapists, and what you hope to gain from EMDR. You’ll also be able to share general information about any experiences you would like to “target” in EMDR therapy.

2. Preparation

Next, you’ll work with your therapist to gain new skills for regulating your nervous system during treatments. Your therapist will talk about how to maintain dual attention throughout EMDR sessions. This means focusing on the memory you’re targeting and the sensations in your body while remaining grounded in the present time and place. This approach helps you avoid feeling re-traumatized.

3. Assessment

During this stage, you and your therapist will determine exactly which memories or experiences you want to prioritize targeting. You’ll name a particular event without going into detail. This does not involve delving into personal memories. For example, you could state that you’d like to target a traumatic illness that you went through when you were in high school. You’ll also let your therapist know how severe the event was. If your trauma is related to a specific person in your life, you can note a couple of connected memories that you’d like to target.

4. Desensitization

In the desensitization phase, you’ll be instructed to focus on the target memory while your therapist guides you through bilateral stimulation. Often, this involves following the therapist’s finger with your eyes. This form of stimulation gradually desensitizes you to the impact of the traumatic memory. Your therapist will ask you what sensations, details, or emotions you notice coming up. You’ll share them until the memory no longer feels unsettling.

5. Installation

The installation phase involves incorporating positive cognition into your memory. This refers to strengthening a new, positive belief. As you hold both the positive belief and the memory in your thoughts, the therapist will continue with bilateral stimulation. They will check in to see how “true” the positive belief feels as this goes on.

6. Body Scan

After this, your therapist will instruct you to mentally “scan” your body for any lingering distress. They will keep guiding you through bilateral stimulation as you process any remaining tension.

7. Closure

The closure phase involves “containing” the memory in case it wasn’t fully processed during the session. Your therapist will ensure that you feel grounded and centered before you leave the session, so they will walk you through exercises with this goal in mind.

8. Reevaluation

In your next session, you can continue processing the same target memory or move on to a new experience. When you start your next session, your therapist will check in on anything new that you’ve noticed related to the target memory and decide what to work on next.

Are you curious about the benefits of EMDR therapy? It might be time to connect with an EDMR therapist. Reach out to us to learn more about our EMDR therapy services.

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