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Understanding The 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy

Unveiling the Healing Journey: A Deep Dive into the 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy


In the realm of psychotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has emerged as a powerful and transformative approach to healing trauma. Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, EMDR has since gained widespread recognition for its efficacy in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological distress. The therapy unfolds in eight distinct phases, each contributing to the comprehensive process of healing. Join us on a journey through the intricacies of EMDR therapy, as we explore each phase and the profound impact it can have on an individual's well-being.

Some of the phases are linear but there are times when clinicians will move back and forth between Phase 1, 2 and 3. Experienced clinicians may also use advanced skills to provide parts treatment while moving through the first 3 phases.

Your clinician will likely "install" a "calm place" to provide relief as you move through these earlier phases and to use between sessions.

EMDR Therapy Phase 1: History-Taking and Treatment Planning

The journey of EMDR begins with a thorough exploration of the client's history and current struggles. In the initial phase, the therapist collaborates with the client to identify the specific memories or experiences that have left lasting emotional imprints. Understanding the client's unique background helps tailor the treatment plan to address their individual needs. This collaborative approach builds trust and sets the foundation for the therapeutic alliance that will guide the entire EMDR process. The therapeutic alliance and understanding of your history is 4/5ths of client success.

In this phase clinicians are listening to what you say, how you say it, and more importantly what you don't say! We often spend time in this phase to better understand what parts of you are overdeveloped and why. What parts of you are underdeveloped and what the roots and barriers are. We also pay attention to your strengths and areas of skills so we know when to come back to them and remind you if/when you forget.

EMDR Therapy Phase 2: Preparation

Preparation is crucial in creating a safe and secure environment for the client. The therapist introduces the EMDR process, explaining the principles and techniques involved. This phase also involves teaching the client self-regulation skills to manage any distress that may arise during the therapy sessions. The establishment of coping mechanisms ensures that the client feels equipped to navigate the emotional terrain that may emerge during subsequent phases of EMDR.

EMDR Therapy Phase 3: Assessment

During the assessment phase, the therapist works with the client to identify and prioritize target memories that are contributing to their distress. These memories are examined in detail, including associated negative beliefs and physical sensations. The therapist and client collaborate to establish measurable treatment goals, providing a roadmap for the journey ahead. This phase sets the stage for the targeted processing of traumatic memories in the subsequent stages of EMDR therapy.

EMDR Therapy Phase 4: Desensitization

The heart of EMDR lies in the desensitization phase, where the processing of traumatic memories takes center stage. The client is guided to focus on specific memories while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, often in the form of lateral eye movements or other bilateral stimuli. This dual attention allows the client to reprocess the memory, facilitating the integration of distressing experiences with more adaptive and positive beliefs. As the desensitization phase unfolds, the emotional charge attached to the memories diminishes, paving the way for healing.

EMDR Therapy Phase 5: Installation

In the installation phase, the therapist helps the client reinforce positive and adaptive beliefs that counteract the negative cognitions associated with the targeted memories. Through bilateral stimulation, the client is encouraged to internalize and strengthen these positive beliefs, creating a more resilient foundation for their self-perception. This phase is crucial in promoting lasting change and fostering a sense of empowerment in the face of past traumas.

EMDR Therapy Phase 6: Body Scan

Acknowledging the intricate connection between the mind and body, the body scan phase of EMDR focuses on identifying and addressing any residual physical tension or discomfort associated with the targeted memories. The therapist guides the client in attending to bodily sensations, promoting a holistic release of tension. This integration of mind and body enhances the overall effectiveness of EMDR in alleviating the impact of trauma on both psychological and physiological levels.

EMDR Therapy Phase 7: Closure

Closure is a vital component of each EMDR session, ensuring that the client leaves in a state of emotional equilibrium. The therapist works with the client to process any remaining material, providing a sense of resolution for the session. Clients are equipped with self-soothing techniques to manage any residual distress that may arise between sessions. This intentional closure fosters a feeling of safety and containment, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the therapy.

EMDR Therapy Phase 8: Reevaluation

The final phase of EMDR involves reevaluating the progress made throughout the treatment. The therapist and client collaboratively assess the achievement of treatment goals and identify any residual distress that may require further attention. This phase ensures that the positive changes resulting from EMDR are not only sustained but continue to evolve. If necessary, additional target memories or aspects of the original trauma may be addressed, deepening the overall healing process.

A strong therapist will not hesitate to help you understand your case formulation. You should generally be aware of what target events or themes are being addressed as you work together.

During the treatment process you may have strong emotions as your mind reconciles the past to the present You are always in control and a pre-established stop signal is always available to you.

EMDR Therapy: Window of Tolerance

Clinicians closely monitor your "window of tolerance" (developed by Dr. Daniel Seigel) to ensure you are not in hypo arousal or hyperarousal. Being within your window of tolerance ensures that you are reprocessing effectively and not being re-traumatized. When in phase 4 reprocessing clinicians will guide you to be in "just enough" arousal to ensure treatment is effective but not too much and not too little.

If you do pop out of the window of tolerance your therapist will use the self-soothing and grounding tools established in phases 1 and 2 to support you in coming back. You may or may not resume reprocessing in that session - this is a clinical decision made by you and your therapist.

The infographic below may be helpful (thanks to our friends at mind my feelings).

window of tolerance infographic

You may notice that a strong clinician will not jump into phase 4 activation and reprocessing without a solid and complete first three phases.

This means that there will be sessions where you will not be "following fingers/dots/buzzers" - be rest assured no matter what phase you are in you are still doing "EMDR Therapy".

Be rest assured no matter what phase you are in you are still doing "EMDR Therapy" - you're still with an EMDR Therapist!

Many clinicians have reported pressure from clients who have either read online, heard from others or have seen clinicians who jump into phase 4 to start phase 4 before both clinician and client feel comfortable. Your clinician needs to get to know you - how your trauma has impacted your window of tolerance and how you best regulate.

Furthermore, they need to get to know your internal family system - all the "parts of you" that contribute to how you coped and managed through your difficult times.

EMDR therapy unfolds as a comprehensive and structured journey through the eight interconnected phases. From the initial exploration of traumatic memories to the reevaluation of progress, each phase contributes to the transformative process of healing. By addressing the mind-body connection and fostering positive beliefs, EMDR offers individuals a path to recovery from the impact of trauma. As a versatile and evidence-based therapeutic approach, EMDR continues to empower countless individuals on their journey toward mental and emotional well-being.

EMDR Therapists

Farah Kurji and Associates specialize in EMDR Therapy with experience and training specialized in trauma and dissociation. We are grateful to help you resolve past experiences. You can book your free meet and greet HERE.


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