What are the 8 Phases of EMDR?

GoodTherapy | What are the 8 Phases of EMDR?Learning about EMDR

Therapy is different for everyone. While one person may benefit from talk therapy, another person may be more comfortable with other types of therapy, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). 

EMDR is very different from talk therapy. It requires less talking, for one. It usually takes less time to take effect than talk therapy, yet it’s still considered very effective, especially for people dealing with trauma. The whole process can be described in eight simple phases.


The first phase involves talking to you, the client, about why you’re here and how we can make sure EMDR helps you. We must, of course, also make sure you’re comfortable with us as your counselor. That’s maybe the most important part. Once we know how to move forward, we develop a treatment plan.


In the next step, we explain what will happen during the sessions so you don’t walk in blind. There may not be much talking involved in EMDR, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience any distress during the process. That’s why we’ll also teach you some coping mechanisms, such as breathing techniques, or we’ll guide you into creating a safe space you retreat to when it all becomes too much. 

If you have any questions or concerns, we’ll be happy to answer them. So, don’t be afraid to ask. We’re here to help you, and we want to make sure you’re aware of every step of this process.


The aim of EMDR is to help you put away memories that you feel like you might still be reliving, so you can move past them. So, during this step, we identify those memories and the negative emotions and beliefs that accompany them. Once we’ve established how this will all unfold, we try to find a key memory we can work on.


Once we’ve identified a key memory, you’ll be asked to think about that memory while we engage in the desensitization process. Essentially, you will be asked to look from right to left while you think about that memory. This left-right stimulation, usually called bilateral stimulation, is the core process behind EMDR. 

It doesn’t have to be a visual thing. Some counselors use sound. Others use touch, all with your consent. We’ll work together to figure out the method that works best for you.


Once the distress associated with the key memory has diminished, we’ll do something else. Instead of focusing on negative feelings or beliefs you may have about yourself as a result of your experience, we’ll ask you to focus on a positive belief: something you want to believe about yourself. Using bilateral stimulation, we’ll help you process that positive belief.

Body Scan

In phase six, you’ll be asked to scan your body while thinking of your key memory and notice any distress you may still be feeling. If there’s any left, we repeat phase four until that distress is gone or severely diminished.


At the end of the session, we’ll guide you back to a calmer state. Our goal here is to help you feel a little more settled so you don’t leave our practice while feeling terrible.


At the beginning of the following session, we’ll discuss the key memory and how much distress it brings you now. After that, we’ll be able to make a decision on how to continue helping you. 

If, after reading this, you think EMDR is something you want to try, then don’t be afraid to make an appointment with us. If EMDR is something you think will help you, then we’ll be with you and guide you every step of the way. 

© Copyright 2023 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jenny Smith, Certified EMDR Therapist (EMDRIA), LCSW, CCTP, CCTP in Miami Beach, Florida

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dominic

    December 28th, 2023 at 7:02 PM

    Love the breakdown of EMDR! Understanding the therapy is really important to the process.

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