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The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy

Clients beginning their journey with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy frequently ask what the therapy looks like in practice. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at each of the eight phases of EMDR and what they involve so that you know what to expect.

Overview of EMDR

EMDR therapy is a form of psychotherapy that effectively treats various mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and addiction. It is a non-invasive, brain-based treatment approach that does not require medication or other medical interventions, making it an effective option for clients who prefer a more natural approach to healing.

Developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Francine Shapiro, EMDR therapy is based on the idea that trauma and other adverse life experiences can get "stuck" in the brain, leading to persistent and distressing symptoms. EMDR therapy works by helping clients to process these experiences and change the negative emotions, beliefs, and bodily reactions associated with them. The client is empowered to take an active role in their own healing, with the therapist guiding and supporting the process.

The therapy has eight phases, which are designed to help the client feel safe, identify and process traumatic memories, and build new positive beliefs.

The Eight Phases

Phase 1: History and Treatment Planning

The first phase of EMDR therapy involves a comprehensive assessment of the client's history. The therapist and client will work to identify specific symptoms that are causing distress, as well as any negative beliefs or emotions associated with those symptoms. These symptoms are linked to past adverse experiences that will be reprocessed in later phases.

From there, the therapist will work with the client to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to the client's individual needs and goals. This may involve setting specific targets for processing traumatic memories or developing new coping skills.

Phase 2: Preparation

In the preparation phase, the therapist will work with the client to establish a sense of safety and stability. This may involve teaching relaxation and grounding techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness meditation.

The therapist will also explain the EMDR process to the client, including what to expect during each phase of therapy. They will work with the client to develop a "safe place" that they can go to in their mind when they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed.

Phase 3: Assessment

The assessment phase involves identifying specific memories or experiences that are causing distress for the client. The therapist will work with the client to identify the emotions and beliefs associated with each memory, as well as any physical sensations or other triggers that are associated with the memory.

Phase 4: Desensitization

The desensitization phase is where the actual EMDR processing takes place. The therapist will ask the client to focus on a specific target memory or experience while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as following the therapist's hand movements with their eyes or listening to tones through headphones.

The goal of this phase is to help the client process the memory in a new way, reducing the intensity of negative emotions and beliefs associated with the memory.

Phase 5: Installation

In the installation phase, the therapist will work with the client to "install" positive beliefs and emotions related to the target memory or experience. This may involve asking the client to focus on a specific positive belief or emotion while continuing the bilateral stimulation.

The goal of this phase is to help the client replace negative beliefs and emotions with positive ones, promoting healing and resilience.

Phase 6: Body Scan

The body scan phase involves checking in with the client's physical sensations and emotional state to ensure that the processing has been effective. The therapist may ask the client to focus on the target memory or experience again while monitoring their physical sensations.

If the client is still experiencing distress, the therapist may repeat the desensitization and installation phases until the distress has been reduced.

Phase 7: Closure

In the closure phase, the therapist will work with the client to bring the session to a close in a safe and supportive way. This may involve using relaxation or grounding techniques, reviewing what was accomplished during the session, or setting goals for the next session.

Phase 8: Re-evaluation

The final phase of EMDR therapy is reevaluation, which involves assessing the progress that has been made and determining whether further sessions are necessary. The therapist will work with the client to evaluate their symptoms and functioning and determine whether additional processing is needed for specific memories or experiences.

It's worth noting that EMDR therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Length of Treatment

The number of sessions required can vary depending on the client's individual needs and the severity of their symptoms. Some clients may require just a few sessions, while others may need more long-term support. Similarly, different clients move through the phases at different rates. Some clients require more clarity about how their past affects their present and will spend multiple sessions exploring their past in Phase One. Some clients require stabilization and may require multiple sessions in Phase Two. Each person's journey is unique.


EMDR therapy is a highly effective treatment approach for a range of mental health conditions. By helping clients to process traumatic memories and develop new positive beliefs, EMDR therapy promotes healing and resilience.

The eight phases of EMDR therapy provide a structured treatment approach tailored to the client's needs and goals. From establishing safety and stability to processing traumatic memories and installing new positive beliefs, each phase of EMDR therapy plays an essential role in the healing process.

If you are struggling with symptoms related to past trauma or other negative life experiences, EMDR therapy may be an effective treatment option for you. Talk to a qualified therapist or mental health professional at EMDR KW by scheduling a free consultation.


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