What to Expect From an EMDR Session

Mar 01, 2023
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Learn the basics and phases of EMDR.

You may have heard about the rapid eye movements, tapping, or hand buzzies often associated with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, but you may not have realized that EMDR actually is an eight phase process and only during the three reprocessing phases are bilaterals used.

Here’s a brief rundown of the eight phases:

Phase 1: History taking, here we do an intake type assessment, including treatment planning and trauma timelines.

Phase 2: Preparation, the therapist will help set expectations, answer questions and continue to build rapport and a therapeutic alliance.

Phase 3: Assessment, this is where the target event (to reprocess) is identified and fleshed out in a specific format which includes identifying an image, related emotions, bodily sensations, negative cognitive, positive cognition, and some scale scores in relation to those cognitions.

Phases 4-6 are the re-processing phases where bilaterals come in…

Phase 4: Desensitization, in this phase we neutralize the target

Phase 5: Installation, this is where we enhance the positive cognition until it is completely valid

Phase 6: Body scan, the client will scan their body while holding the target in their mind and reprocess any disturbances still present

Now we move into the safety phases.

Phase 7: Closure is when the client returns to a state of calm and the target has cleared

Phase 8: Re-Evaluation, this actually happens in the following session where the therapist confirms the target is still clear.  If it is not, reprocessing begins again.

I think it is important for clients to know that you won’t begin bilaterals in session one or two of starting to see an EMDR therapist. The beginning phases are highly important and cannot be skipped.  The soonest bilaterals and reprocessing should actually begin is in session 3 with a new therapist.

Additionally, in some circumstances, multiple past targets have to be cleared in order to work our way up to present-day concerns or symptoms.  It is important to realize that present-day symptoms often do decrease as past targets are cleared, as these negative cognitions and traumas have connection in our minds. 

This is to remind clients to be patient.  You did not end up in a therapist’s office overnight, and there is no magic remedy where all can be healed in one session.  However, healing is possible…very possible.  EMDR is a highly proven therapeutic approach for treating trauma. 

In our office, Stephanie Munro, LAC, and Heather Vance, LAC both offer EMDR and would love to meet with you to discuss your needs.

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