Understanding the 8 phases of EMDR therapy.

To better understand Eye Movement Desensitization and Repressing (EMDR) Therapy, it is helpful to know how trauma affects the brain. Trauma results from exposure to an event(s) that is emotionally disturbing or life-threatening. When an event this significant happens, the brain reacts in a way to self-protect.

The fight or flight system of our brain is activated, and one responds in a way to protect or save his/her life. When the fight or flight system is activated, the brain only operates using the right side of the brain. This is the emotional, intuitive, and tactical side of the brain. The prefrontal cortex and the left side of the brain, which are responsible for linguistics, analytics, and sequential thinking and remembering, go offline during a traumatic event.

What this means is that the system that could store the event in a sequential order and identify it as a past event does not work. Therefore, trauma becomes stored as fragmented pieces in the brain. When a triggering event occurs, each fragmented piece becomes reactivated, and the brain reacts as if the traumatic event is happening again and again.


Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) uses bilateral stimulation (BLS) which includes eye movement (light bar or want, tactical (hand-held device or tapping), or auditory (sound through headphones). BLS allows the right and left sides of the brain to remain on and talking with each other when the traumatic event is recalled and reprocessed. When the traumatic event is recalled during BLS, the brain can process the memory with more adaptive information and in a sequential manner. This process facilitates healing to take place. EMDR can be successful in reducing and eliminating symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, invasive thoughts, anxiety, hypervigilance, trouble sleeping, and depression.

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation.

8 phases of EMDR therapy.

EMDR therapy has eight phases for treatment. The first phase is gathering history relevant to the traumatic issue(s). The second phase is treatment planning and the third is assessing and identifying a target trauma. This is when a plan of action is developed, and a target trauma, negative cognition, positive cognition, emotions, and body sensations are identified. The fourth phase is when desensitization and reprocessing start. Reprocessing of the traumatic event(s) takes time and is different for each person.

Once the target trauma is resolved, phase five, installation of the positive cognition begins, and body scans, phase six, are conducted to assess for any potential need for reevaluation. Phase seven is closure, finalizing the process of installing the positive cognition. Phase eight is reevaluation to ensure complete reprocessing.

EMDR therapy is now a highly effective therapeutic treatment for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy can be a faster therapeutic process compared to talk therapy approaches, which is appealing when confronting trauma. Plus, it is not only used for treating trauma. It is effective in treating anxiety, depression, chronic illness, eating disorders, substance abuse, and OCD, phobias, negative self talk and more.

The EMDR International Association talks more extensively about EMDR here. If EMDR does not sound like the right path for you, check out my post on neurofeedback therapy here to see if that would be a better option for your healing journey.