The Experience of EMDR

EMDR is highly effective over the course of a short period of time; however, it does involve eight phases. The length will depend on the number and severity of traumas. For instance, adults with one traumatic event to process can see a dramatic improvement in a matter of hours, whereas sufferers of multiple traumas generally take longer.

Phase One:

First, the therapist and client work together to find potential targets for EMDR processing by reviewing their history. The goal is to identify distressing memories or present situations that cause suffering. The emphasis is placed on how the client can develop certain skills that will help them in the future. Typically, EMDR is useful in helping clients manage and cope with life’s challenges more adaptively than before. 

Phase Two:

In the second phase, the focus is on helping the client develop different ways to handle emotional distress. Stress reduction techniques and imagery may be used during the session, as well as teaching the client how to implement these skills into their lives.

Phase Three to Six:

During these phases, a target is identified and the EMDR processing procedure is used. The client must identify three things: 

  1. A vivid image associated with the memory,
  2. A negative belief about themselves,
  3. Related body sensations and emotions, and 
  4. A new positive belief to replace it. Then, the therapist will ask the client to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations as they implement bilateral stimulation. The length of the set will depend on the client’s individual needs. After this is finished, the therapist will lead the client to a blank, meditative state, and ask about what feelings or thoughts come up. Then, they may approach a new focus of attention in a new set; this might happen multiple times through a session. Once a client reports no more distress around a memory, the therapist will ask them to focus on the positive, replacement thought.

Phase Seven:

During phase seven, the therapist will close the session and ask the client to keep track of anything that arises during the week. They will also remind them of any self-soothing techniques developed during phase two and encourage them to use these techniques outside of the session.

Phase Eight:

Phase eight is the beginning of the next session. It involves assessing the progress made from the EMDR therapy so far and pivoting the strategy accordingly.