EMDR Therapy Techniques

EMDR Therapy Techniques 


EMDR therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, was first used and recorded in the late 1980s and was developed by Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist. In some ways, EMDR therapy can be compared to cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves acknowledging and working through traumatic or stressful incidents.  

Doctors now use this therapy for treating things like: 

  • Phobias 
  • PTSD 
  • Anxiety 
  • Chronic Pain 
  • Depression 
  • Sexual Issues and more 

Standard EMDR therapy consists of eight phases, and during these phases, patients work through recalling traumatic experiences and issues while moving their eyes back and forth when directed by their therapist. The point of this therapy is to allow people to integrate these traumatic events and memories into their standard memories. The theory behind this treatment is that remembering these stressful or distressing times while distracted will make them less upsetting over time. The more often patients confront these stressful issues during therapy, the more their distressing memories will reduce, thusly lessening the impactful effects they were having on the patients’ life. Both EMDR therapy and CBT therapies use processes called exposure and cognition.  

The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy 

These are the standard eight phases of EMDR therapy. 

  • Step 1: Patient history and treatment planning. Your therapist will evaluate your case and your ability to tolerate exposure to distressing or unpleasant memories. They will then base their treatment plan on your symptoms and adjusted things as needed. 
  • Step 2: Preparation. Your therapist will explain how EMDR will work with you and for you and explain the treatment plan they have created. This usually involves learning self-control techniques to better handle these memories as they arise as well. 
  • Step 3: Assessment. During this step, your therapist will identify the traumatic memories that may be causing you the issues. This may be one issue, or many. You will then choose an image to represent each memory, nothing the negative beliefs and physical sensations that you have attached to the memory over the years. Together you will work to attach a positive thought to each negative memory.  
  • Step 4: Desensitization. This involves reducing any disturbing reactions to the bad memories, including the physical sensations that you may be having when you are asked to think of the memory. Physical sensations often include rapid heart rate, stomach problems or sweating. Your therapist will then direct your eye movements to help better focus on working through the issue.  
  • Step 5: Installation. The point of this stage is working on installing those positive thoughts that you worked to come up with in Step 3. 
  • Step 6: Body scan. A body scan is a meditative technique where a person scans their body from toes to head to notice physical sensations that are happening. During your EMDR therapy, your therapist will note these physical sensations to deal with more in the future.  
  • Step 7: Closure. At the end of each of your therapy sessions, your therapist will stabilize you using self-control techniques that they taught you in Step 2. They will explain what you can expect in between therapy sessions and will ask that you keep a record of any negative experiences or thoughts that occur so they can be targeted at your next session.  
  • Step 8: Reevaluation. This final step is a review of the effectiveness of the EMDR therapy for your situation so far. This is a good time for you and the therapist to discuss positive and negative outcomes of this therapy, and if it is beneficial to continue it in the future.  

The Benefits of EMDR Therapy 

Much of the research done with EMDR therapy involves those patients who have been diagnosed with PTSD for varying reasons. Those reasons have been listed as military, medical, violent crime, and intense life stressors. Current research being done is helping to prove that EMDR therapy is also beneficial for a variety of other conditions like self-harm, stress and anger- along with: 

  • addiction 
  • anxiety 
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder 
  • chronic pain and phantom pain 
  • depression 
  • eating disorders 
  • panic attacks 
  • psychotic symptoms 
  • self-esteem issues 
  • stress-induced flare-ups of skin problems 

New research supports these finds and also proves to help ease pain symptoms with those patients experiencing chronic pain. EMDR treatment therapy is often done alongside other therapy options to give the patient a sense of whole healing.  

Is EMDR effective? 

The National EMDR Institute has had over thirty controlled studies all with positive outcomes showing EMDR therapy does have positive effects in patients. As many as ninety percent of those studied survivors reported lessened or no PTSD symptoms after completing their therapy with three sessions. Other studies proved that with six to twelve sessions, those with severe PTSD were showing less signs of the side effects interfering with the patient’s everyday life.  

Now, many worldwide organizations like the World Health Organization and the Department of Veterans affairs recommend EMDR therapy as a treatment for anyone showing signs of PTSD. While some studies show this therapy may be effective for mental health issues and psychotic symptoms like: 

  • hallucinations 
  • delusions 
  • anxiety 
  • depression 
  • self-esteem issues 

Another interesting fact of these studies showed that, even if EMDR therapy did not cure the PTSD symptoms, it did lessen or nullify the patient’s depression and anxiety. Additional research is currently being done to prove this theory.  

What are the side effects of EMDR therapy? 

While this is considered a safe treatment that causes fewer adverse reactions than medications for depression and trauma symptoms, there can be some side effects. Here are the most reported issues: 

  • an increase in distressing memories 
  • heightened emotions or physical sensations during sessions 
  • lightheadedness 
  • vivid dreams 
  • the surfacing of new traumatic memories 

These symptoms often resolve themselves as treatment progresses and continues. Patients should tell their therapist about new experiences before each session so they can be worked through in an appropriate fashion.  

If you have more questions about EMDR therapy before beginning, you should reach out to your doctor or mental health professional who specializes in the treatment. Your questions might include: 

  • Do you have the appropriate training and credentials? 
  • How many people with my particular issue have you treated using EMDR? 
  • What is your success rate? 
  • Do you keep up to date with the latest EMDR training and research? 
  • Am I a candidate for EMDR? 
  • How many sessions will I need? 
  • How many sessions will we have before beginning EMDR therapy? 
  • What will happen in each session? 
  • Do treatment effects last over time? 
  • What are the potential side effects? 

EMDR therapy has been used for more than twenty-five years to treat PTSD and other health concerns that involve your mental outlook. If you have more questions about EMDR therapy and how it could benefit your situation, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor for more information or a referral to an EMDR specialist.  


Resources Used: 

The Sexual Summit: Michael Murray, ND; author: Healing Foods 

EMDR National Association 

Reclaiming Intimacy  

Psychology Today 


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