Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) noted “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy that helps people heal from trauma or other distressing life experiences (2018).

This therapeutic approach has been researched, and has proven effective in alleviating, reported experiencing of symptoms related to, trauma (EMDR, 2018). The therapeutic relationship involves a, and a trained, certified, or consultant of, EMDR, usually masters level, or higher, and often licensed, mental health professional. EMDR is a three pronged, past, present, and future, 8 phases treatment approach. EMDR essentially, stimulates the mind and the brain, through the use of eye movements; to facilitate the continuation of (positive) information processing (Adaptive Information Processing) that paused, at the time, when the negative or traumatic memory event was experienced. EMDR is utilized to engage a past, present, or future, (selected) negative target image and a current negative belief, associated with a negative or traumatic memory/event, and pair it with a client identified, realistic and present, positive belief, coupled with decreased, or no negative disturbance in the body, while thinking of the traumatic target image/memory.

Possible goals of EMDR include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. A goal of EMDR therapy involves clients’ identification of negative, maladaptive, or traumatic beliefs, associated with past, present or future experiences, which are needed to be “stored with appropriate emotions in the brain” (EMDRIA, 2018). When negative or traumatic experiences occur, the mind
  2. A goal of EMDR therapy is to influence clients’ experiencing of positive understanding, perspectives, and emotions, that will, more likely than not, lead to an increase in healthy and useful interactions and behaviors within themselves, and also with others. (EMDRIA, 2018). This goal connects directly with the concept of EMDR, in aiding the continuation of Adaptive Information Processing, influencing processing, attachments to positive beliefs, and positive daily functioning.
  3. A goal of EMDR therapy is to increase clients’ independent care for themselves (EMDRIA, 2018). This goal relates to resources – calming and relaxation techniques – that will be taught to, learned by, and installed with, clients. These resources will be needed, for use, outside of the immediate therapeutic environment, alone at home, if session experiencing persists beyond the allotted session time, or on days between sessions. Each client is believed to have a different experience.
  4. A goal of EMDR therapy is for clients’ SUD (Subjective Units of Disturbance – rating of negative beliefs used to assess disturbance clients’ reports as experiencing, at that time, on a scale from 0 [being no disturbance] to 10 [being most disturbing]) rating to decrease, while the VOC (Validity of Cognition – how true a positive belief is to clients at that time, on a scale from 1 [being completely false] to 7 [being completely true]) scores of positive belief increases (EMDRIA, 2018). This goal refers to the primary foundation behind the use of EMDR. To decrease clients’ negative experiencing, while increasing their positive believing/perceiving.

The 8 phases of EMDR are:

Stage 1: History and Treatment Planning – Biopsychosocial Assessment, data gathering, agreed upon treatment plan, and identifying associated treatment goals and objectives.

Stage 2: Preparation – Education about EMDR and Stop procedure, installation of a Safe Place, a Resource, and a Container,

Stage 3: Assessment – Identifying target image/memory, negative belief, positive belief, SUD, location of body sensation(s) related to SUD

Stage 4: Desensitization – Sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until the event becomes less, or not, disturbing, at all (EMDRIA, 2018).

Stage 5: Installation – Installation of SUDS at rating of zero (0), increasing VOC, if applicable

Stage 6: Body Scan – Includes clients’ scanning of their bodies to identify if negative, or residual negative sensations, that might be present following desensitization.

Stage 7: Closure – Debriefing, suggesting a future template as agreed upon, and a mindful breathing exercise, with clients.

Stage 8: Reevaluation – A re-evaluation of the SUD rating of previous session’s target image/memory.

The pairing of positive belief with the negative target image/memory can be considered the reprocessing aspect of EMDR. The pairing of the negative target image with the positive belief is believed to influence the mind, to communicate with the brain, in partnership, as restoring of the previously paused information processing, related to the traumatic event, aids the adaptive storing (positive storing) of information.


EMDR International Association. (2018). Experiencing EDMR therapy. Retrieved from https://www.emdria.org/page/120

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