The 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy (and How They Work )

woman wearing gray jacket in emdr therapy with 8 phases

The 8 Phases of EMDR

If you’ve been struggling with trauma, anxiety, or other mental health issues, you may have heard of EMDR therapy.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of therapy that can be very effective in treating these conditions.

But how does it work?

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the 8 phases of EMDR therapy and how they can help you heal from trauma and anxiety.

Introduction to EMDR

EMDR is a therapeutic technique used to help individuals overcome trauma, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. The EMDR process is typically divided into 8 phases, including History-taking, Preparation, Assessment, Desensitization, Installation, Body Scan, Closure, and Reevaluation.

What are the 8 phases of EMDR therapy?

1. EMDR Phase: History-Taking, treatment planning

The History-Taking and Treatment Planning phase of EMDR Therapy is a crucial part of the overall treatment plan, as it helps the clinician identify potential treatment targets and determine the best course of action.

During the history-taking phase, a client’s past, present, and future events can be examined to identify potential targets for EMDR treatment.

The techniques used in each phase of the EMDR Protocol can be used to assess the client’s affect tolerance and to map out the memory network of experiences that inform the client’s current difficulties.

2. EMDR Phase: Preparation

The role of Preparation phase in the use of EMDR therapy is to ensure that the client is adequately prepared and stabilized for memory reprocessing. This phase involves the explanation of the EMDR model and addressing any concerns about the treatment. It also involves establishing the mechanics of how the treatment will be administered, including the bilateral stimulation, seating positions, and a stop signal in case the client needs to stop during the reprocessing.

Additionally, resourcing interventions are offered during this phase as needed, although they are not limited to this phase and may be used throughout the treatment, especially with complex clients. The number of Phase 2 sessions necessary to adequately prepare the client will vary according to the individual’s needs.

3. EMDR Phase: Assessment

The purpose of the assessment phase of EMDR therapy is to identify and evaluate the memory causing emotional distress. This phase allows the clinician to activate the targeted memory by identifying and assessing the components of the memory, such as image, cognition, affect and body sensation.

The clinician will also use two measurement scales to evaluate the level of emotion and cognition: the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) scale and the Validity of Cognition (VOC) scale. This assessment phase is also used to identify and ensure the readiness of the client to move to the next phase of EMDR therapy and to learn additional grounding, stress reduction, and state change skills.

4. EMDR Phase: Desensitization

Desensitization is the fourth phase of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. It focuses on reducing a person’s emotional distress in response to a traumatic event, as measured by their SUD scale. In this phase, the therapist will lead the person in sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps in order to alter the person’s focus and response to the event. The therapist will also explore any associated memories, insights, and associations that arise in the process. The goal is to reduce the person’s SUD levels to 0 or 1. This phase allows the person to identify and resolve similar events, resulting in a reduction of the memory’s disturbance.

5. EMDR Phase: Installation

The installation phase of EMDR therapy is the fifth phase of this psychotherapy method, which works to strengthen the preferred positive cognition. In this phase, the therapist works with the patient to ‘install’ a positive belief into the patient’s thought process, replacing the negative cognitive beliefs that were previously present.

This is done by helping the patient realize their capabilities and trust in professionals, such as taking horse riding lessons to overcome a fear of falling down again caused by a traumatic experience.

Additionally, the therapist will guide the patient through sets of exercises that reduce anxiety levels, allowing the positive thought to take over. In the end, the patient’s thinking is changed, replacing the negative with the positive.

6. EMDR Phase: Body scan

A body scan is an important step in EMDR therapy, and it is used to assess any residual trauma or emotional disturbances related to the traumatic event that has been processed. This step involves the client observing their physical response while thinking of the incident and the positive cognition, and identifying any residual somatic distress.

During the body scan, the client is instructed to focus on any lingering physical sensations related to the memory of the original incident, such as heat waves, numbness etc.

The aim of the body scan is to make sure the “sting” is taken out of the original trauma in all senses, mental, emotional and physical, with any physical manifestations of the unpleasant memory also fully processed and removed.

7. EMDR Phase: Closure

The Closure phase involves ensuring that the client is feeling calm and well grounded before ending the session.

During the desensitization phase of EMDR, clients may experience intense emotions and sensations as they process distressing memories. It is common to cry during EMDR but it is not a problem. Therefore, it is important to bring the session to a close in a way that helps the client feel safe and supported.

In the closure phase, the therapist may use relaxation techniques or guided imagery to help the client feel calm. The therapist may also encourage the client to express any final thoughts or feelings about the session.

8. EMDR Phase: Re-evaluation

The re-evaluation phase of EMDR therapy is used to assess the progress made during the previous phases and determine if any additional sessions or treatments are needed.

During this phase, the therapist will evaluate the client’s current psychological state to see if the treatment effects have been maintained, and ask about any new memories that may have emerged since the last session.

The therapist will use the SUD and VOC scale to rate the emotional response to the incident and the truthfulness of a positive cognition. After evaluating the client’s progress, the therapist will plan out any necessary follow-up sessions or additional treatment.


What is the adaptive information processing (AIP) model?

The Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model is a model of pathogenesis and change within Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) developed by Francine Shapiro. The AIP model proposes that when a negative experience overwhelms the information processing system of the brain, the experience is not adequately processed and maladaptively encoded in memory, generating symptoms and becoming the focus of treatment.

The AIP model informs the diagnostic procedures and clinical actions within EMDR, from the first moments with a new patient until the end of the EMDR Therapy treatment.

What types of trauma can EMDR therapy help with?

EMDR therapy can be used to help with a variety of traumas, such as those related to rape, military combat, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, car accidents, and other experiences that can cause distress.

What are the benefits of EMDR therapy?

The benefits of EMDR therapy may include improved symptoms of PTSD, Complex PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, phobias, grief, pain management, stress, sleep disturbances in complex PTSD. EMDR is recognized as an effective treatment by a number of national and international organizations, such as the WHO and the American Psychiatric Association (APA). EMDR therapy tends to work faster than other forms of therapy, requires less homework, and is usually less stressful.

How can EMDR therapy help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

EMDR therapy can be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Numerous research studies have supported the efficacy of EMDR therapy in the treatment of PTSD and other conditions related to trauma. Reviews have found positive results from EMDR in terms of reducing symptoms of traumatic stress and preventing symptoms from becoming worse.

In addition, EMDR has been found to be more effective than some traditional trauma therapies, EMDR therapy is a promising option for treating PTSD and the associated conditions.

What is the success rate of EMDR therapy?

Studies have found that EMDR is an effective therapy for treating trauma-related symptoms, with a success rate of up to 80%. All studies showed reduced PTSD symptoms and other trauma-related symptoms. A review suggested that, though the research is currently limited, EMDR could have potential as a treatment for depression.

How does emdr actually work in practice?

During each EMDR session, your healthcare provider will gather information about you and your past, as well as ask about upsetting or disturbing events and memories that you want the therapy to focus on. During the session, your therapist will work with you to rationally evaluate the disturbing event and help your brain change the way it associates the trauma with its trigger through a series of bilateral eye movement stimulation sets that last 25-30 seconds each. After each set, your therapist will ask you to take a deep breath and provide feedback on what you experienced.

There are a few theories behind the way EMDR works, including the idea that it helps the two sides of the brain to communicate with each other more effectively, and the idea that it replicates the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep phase.

The truth is that experts don’t know exactly how EMDR works, sometimes it can make things worse but the results from numerous controlled trials and research studies suggest that it is an effective form of therapy for trauma and PTSD.