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The Eight Phases of EMDR

Updated on May 21, 2010

While eye movements or other bi-lateral stimulation of the brain (taps, tones, etc) are commonly thought of when EMDR is mentioned, it is important to realize that simply following a finger or pen back and forth is not going to minimize or lessen a distressful memory. In order to accomplish EMDR’s desensitization and reprocessing, there are traditionally 8 steps followed to ensure that patients have enough tools and time to cope with their memories. A patient is not exposed to EMDR desensitization upon a first or even a second visit. Bi-lateral stimulation of the brain only begins after the therapist feels that the patient is ready to begin the treatment. 

1.      In phase one, the patients history is reviewed in order to help the therapist and the patient set goals as to what they’d like to accomplish with their EMDR treatments.

2.      The second phase of the therapy may vary from patient to patient, but essentially it is the therapists responsibility to review methods of coping and relaxation with the patient in order to cope with the difficult memories that temporarily arise during the later phases of EMDR. Methods such as deep relaxation and other coping skills are discussed and taught to clients for use during or directly after EMDR treatments.

3.      The third phase includes an assessment of a disturbing target memory (or memories) to focus on to eventually help relieve symptoms. Target memories are rated on a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the strongest, most intense feeling.

4.      Phase four is when the eye movement process and desensitization begins. During this phase, patients simply follow a finger, pen or light back and forth and are asked to focus on their target memory. After a minute or so, the procedure is stopped and the therapist will stop to ask what thoughts, feelings and images the patient is experiencing as they focus on their distressing target memory while performing eye movements.

5.      Phase five consists of reprocessing, as the therapist works with the client to instill positive beliefs or feelings about the distressing memory. The memory still exists, but in theory will be lessened by reprocessing the mind to associate new, positive feelings to the old, difficult memory.

6.      Phase six is the stage where the patient is asked if any pain or sensations are felt in their bodies, a common occurrence in car accident victims or war veterans suffering from PTSD. (Silver, Steven, Susan Rogers, and Mark Russell, 2008) In addition to feeling pain, positive feelings are re-enforced if they are experienced in this stage, such as relaxation or a sense of calmness.

7.      Phase seven begins to provide closure and the patient is instructed to keep a journal to record any memories, thoughts or feelings if they should arise outside of treatment. Relaxation tools from phase two are also discussed in case they are needed.

8.      Phase 8 occurs at the beginning of the next session, where a review is performed of  the progress made the week before and a plan is devised to continue making progress in the reduction of pain, memories, feelings and images towards distressing target memories. (A Brief Description of EMDR)

EMDR Video

Works Cited

"A Brief Description of EMDR." 2004. EMDR Institute, Inc. 24 July 2009 <>.

Silver, Steven, Susan Rogers, and Mark Rusell. "Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) in the treatment of war veterans." Journal of Clinical Psychology 64 (2008): 947-57. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 24 July 2009 <>. 

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