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EMDR Series 2 - The 8 Phases of EMDR

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a structured therapy modality that can assist with thematic issues and impacts stemming from traumatic experiences. In other words, if there’s a negative belief, EMDR may be able to help. Let’s briefly visit the 8 Phases.

Phase 1: History Taking and Target Sequence Plan Development

This phase is typically viewed as the intake appointment. A client and clinician may discuss relevant personal history, explore mental health history and treatment, use of relevant screening tools, as well as assess fit for EMDR therapy. 

Once adequate history is taken, the client and clinician will develop the Target Sequence Plan (I call it the EMDR Road Map) for EMDR reprocessing. The Target Sequence Plan will contain past, present, and future memories or images (referred to as targets), a negative belief, and a positive belief.

Phase 2: Preparation

This phase includes the development of EMDR-based coping skills and techniques, psycho-education and expectations regarding EMDR, and additional rapport building. I typically start all of my clients in Phase 2 first (this is allowed!). I find that this helps clients feel more comfortable with beginning their trauma therapy journey by building up their coping skills toolbox first.

Phase 3: Activation

This phase is the first step before going into reprocessing. This phase includes becoming primed with the memory or target that will be worked with. The clinician has a set number of questions to get the client activated, primed, and ready for reprocessing. This phase is very short, maybe 5-10 minutes tops.

Phase 4: Desensitization

This is where the magic happens. This is the phase that we think of when we think of someone doing EMDR. During this phase, the BLS speed will speed up to assist the brain reprocess and digest memories and traumas. Be prepared to hear your EMDR therapist say, “What did you notice?” and “Go with that” A LOT.

Phase 5: Integration of the Positive Cognition

Once the memory's Subjective Unit of Disturbance (referred to as a SUD) is reported as a 0 (or an ecological 1, meaning it makes sense that there is a small amount of disturbance left), the client will transition into integrating or installing the positive cognition. This is done through fast BLS but shorter sets until the positive cognition feels totally true and achieves a 7 on the Validity of Cognition scale (referred to as the VoC).

Phase 6: Body Scan

Once the VoC is a 7, the clinician will cue the client to scan their body and notice if there are any remaining unpleasant sensations in the body. If there are, the clinician will cue as many short and fast sets of BLS as needed until a neutral body is reported.

Phase 7: Closure

This phase is done at the end of every reprocessing-based session. Depending on if the SUD reaches 0 or an ecological rating, there may be some containing of memories/images, deep breathing, as well as the opportunity to talk about what was processed/what the experience was like.

Phase 8: Re-evaluation

This phase is done at the beginning of every session. This allows for the client and clinician to check in with one another, discuss any insights or concerns from the previous session, nightmares or dreams, and anything else that may have come up between sessions. 


If you are curious to learn more about EMDR or are interested in beginning your EMDR therapy journey, please reach out to me via the Contact Me page on my website. You can also learn more about EMDR as well as additional EMDR therapists in your area by visiting the EMDR International Association’s website here.


Reminder: these blog posts are meant to be purely educational and/or entertainment tools and do NOT replace psychotherapy and/or other medically necessary treatments. 

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