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The 8 Stages of EMDR

Updated: Jun 22

stages of EMDR therapy eye

Since 2020, the importance of mental health has gained more importance than ever before – and more people are seeking out therapies that can help them with common disorders like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One of the most common treatments for these conditions is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR. We’ve written an overview of this amazing method and its possibilities before, and today let’s dive a little deeper into how it works and what a therapy course in EMDR looks like.

The 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy

1. History and Treatment of EMDR Therapy

As with any big undertaking, getting the details right is absolutely crucial. That’s why the first 1-2 sessions of an EMDR treatment are simply meant to establish a history, discuss the problems and events that led a client to seek treatment, and discover the ways that those issues manifest in negative behaviours or symptoms. It's important to note that even though many of a client’s traumatic memories are touched on, it’s not necessary to get into specific details. An EMDR therapist only needs a general outline to build from, and this helps prevent any unnecessary suffering.

2. Preparation

The Preparation phase is where the foundation for the treatment is laid and solidified. Here, greater trust is developed between the client and the therapist, and the therapist will share some specific techniques for properly managing emotional disturbances and fluctuations in the sessions ahead. This trust is vital to the overall success of the therapy. This stage is where the client gets a better understanding of the methodology involved and what they can expect during the future sessions. This way, they can accurately report their thoughts and emotions as the treatment advances.

3. Assessment

In this stage, clients begin to address specific memories and mental imagery that they associate with negative feelings, beliefs, and emotions. Without having to discuss the memory directly, clients give a measurement of how strongly they feel those negative beliefs, using a scale called the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD). Accompanying this, the client will also focus on a positive statement – something that gives them more control over their current situation and focuses less on the past negative one. They also rate how true this statement feels using a similar scale, the Validity of Cognition (VOC). Ideally, as treatment progresses, the strength of negative beliefs will decrease, and positive ones will increase.

4. Desensitization

The Desensitization phase focuses on the negative emotions and sensations, and their measurements in the SUD rating. The client will focus on a core memory of a target event while the therapist leads them through a series of eye movements, physical taps, or rapid sounds. In this process, they will also focus on interconnected memories and associations as needed, overcoming the negative feelings until the SUD rating is reduced to an acceptable level. It's possible for clients to start with the core memory, and systematically move through the associated ones, to such an extent that they go beyond their early goals and expectations. Under the careful direction of the therapist, they can reach complete resolution.

5. Installation

In this phase, the positive beliefs that were expressed in Assessment are used to replace the original negative ones. As the effects of the desensitization phase help the client process traumatic memories and regain a sense of power and control over their situation, these positive ideas are reinforced and used to overcome the past. While it may not be possible to get a client fully to the most confident rating on the VOC scale of a positive belief (i.e., to believe wholeheartedly that it is true), it is possible to reach a point where next steps can be imagined and followed. From here, self-confidence and healthier feelings can be developed and internalized further.

6. Body Scan

After the positive beliefs have been installed and strengthened, it’s time for the client to revisit the original traumatic memory or event. They do this under supervision from the therapist, who watches for physical signs of stress or tension in the body. If there are, those sensations themselves can be targeted for additional reprocessing. Why is this important? Because studies show that unresolved thoughts and traumas can have physical manifestations, which often act as a form of “muscle memory” that can re-trigger the negative emotions. In order to get full closure, these symptoms must be addressed and properly processed, too.

7. Closure

This phase happens at the end of each treatment session, ensuring that clients are leaving feeling better than they were before. Ideally, full processing of a traumatic memory will occur in one session, which makes it easier to achieve closure and return to daily life. Sometimes this is not possible, though. In those cases, the therapist will give the client calming techniques and a reminder that they are in control, as well as set expectations of what can happen in between sessions. Closure is important to finish the processing cycle – for each session, and for each larger processed memory that may take several sessions.

8. Re-evaluation

Each new session starts with a re-evaluation of the client’s needs. The treatment plan from phase 1 is revisited and used to guide not only that session, but also overall goals across multiple sessions. Over time, the hope is that the evaluations show a clear healing trend, where the client is getting more and more independent and confident as the therapy progresses. At the end of a full course of treatment, the client will have dealt with past trauma, gained tools to guide them through similar situations in the present, and learned how to navigate a future that looks more hopeful than ever. This process helps increase the Window of Tolerance, enabling better stress management and emotional regulation.

EMDR Therapy in Calgary, Alberta

Do you feel like you would benefit from therapy to help deal with past events – or even current ones? than being as crippling as they used to be, issues stemming from life traumas can now be treated through safe, effective methods like EMDR, Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), or other types of counselling. Reach out to Flourish Psychological Services today for a free 15-minute consultation and start yourself on the path to better mental health, and a better future!



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