EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is psychotherapy that was created by the psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1990. She observed a connection between reduction of psychological distress and eye movement, upon clinical research and the practice that later became EMDR therapy was born.

As time went on, different researchers and therapists worked on EMDR to make it the dedicated therapeutic procedure that it is today. EMDR now has influence from different treatments incorporated and has proven to have a success rate of 77% for the treatment of PTSD.

What Does EMDR Do To the Brain?

To understand EMDR one has to understand Francine Shapiro and EMDR origins. EMDR and treatment for PTSD, trauma, anxiety, and panic can be highly-effective. Going through a stressful and traumatic experience can overwhelm the brain, which makes it harder to naturally heal from a distressful occurrence.

According to Shapiro’s research published in the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, this can result in storing the raw memories as they are -graphic and traumatic. Going through a similar situation or thinking about these memories makes the individual feel the same pain as they had in the situation.

EMDR helps replace negative emotions with positive ones and further helps reprocess the transformation of the individual to a more psychologically healthy mindset.

The Phases of EMDR Therapy

EMDR is an 8-stage process that dives in-depth into the stress-inducing events of a person’s life, helps them reprocess this information, and then transforms these emotions by providing a positive alternative to the mindset. It further accesses the mind and provides safer and more efficient ways to engage with the struggle. The eight stages of EMDR therapy include the following steps:

  1. Client History
  2. Preparations
  3. Assessment
  4. Desensitization
  5. Installment
  6. Body Scan
  7. Closure
  8. Reassessment

These phases make all the difference in understanding how EMDR is different from regular therapy. The first two stages are necessary for the client and therapist to form an understanding and get to understand the client’s distress.

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Client History and Evaluation for EMDR Therapy

It is necessary to get complete history and events that might have triggered PTSD or trauma. Getting history also helps determine the situations when the client might have gone through panic and anxiety. Thorough detail will only be possible if the client and therapist have trust between them. This step can sometimes take up to 2 sessions.

EMDR is not a conversational therapy, so it does not require getting into too much detail that might make the patient uncomfortable. The client still does have to discuss the past events and present situations that might be causing distress. The client and therapist also identify and target the memories that they need to desensitize and reprocess.


In this step, the therapist discusses in detail the complete process and steps that will be taken for the client’s psychological redevelopment. Even though EMDR does not require the client to go into details about their trauma, this kind of therapy still requires a lot of trust between the two parties. If working with a child, it is of utmost importance to share the info of the process efficiently with both the parent and the child.

The therapists, at this point, may share some particular calming techniques to try in moments of emotional discomfort. It is important to know if the client can mindfully take care of themselves. The client is basically provided with tools to stabilize themselves and practise self-control. It also helps the client manage the current situations where they feel triggered and that helps in the process of the therapy as well.

Preparations can not be done effectively unless it is understood where the problem is arising from, how the mental health of the person is affected under present triggers, how therapy will help, and that it is necessary to engage actively in past memories in order to identify triggers in the treatment.


It was recommended by Shapiro in her research of 2007 to start from the chronological order of events. The reason she presented is that the earliest memories are usually the foundation of the distress that individuals may be facing currently. A lot of times, present triggers are used to navigate through to the past trauma. It differs in cases and clients.

The assessment has these important steps with eye movement guided by an EMDR specialist

  • Client is asked to bring to mind a vivid image or scene from the targeted memory.
  • They are asked to share the feelings associated with them and the negative belief or negative cognition (NC) that they relate to during this process.
  • The negative cognition is replaced with Positive Cognition (PC) and the therapist inquires how they feel about this positive cognition on the Validity of Cognition scale, developed by Shapiro in 1989.
  • The therapist will then ask about the emotions felt when the memory was brought up again and how distressed they felt thinking about it. The client must rate it on the Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale, developed by Joseph Wolpe in 1969.
  • The client is then asked to share where in the body they felt physical sensations; like headache, nausea, stomach-turning, or more.

The result of this therapy will leave no physical sensation and positive cognitive transformation.


One targeted memory is expanded upon and the client takes the lead towards further processing. The EMDR specialist/ therapist must not intervene or in any way lead the emotions and feelings of the client. Their history reshapes the memories and will help address additional experiences as the process continues.

In case the client is unable to find their way then the therapist will help and ask relevant questions or make a statement needed to continue the process. The ideal result would be a trait change and continuous or rapid interference of the therapist will only result in a temporary change. There won’t be any appropriate neurological connections happening otherwise. The targeted memory, however, needs to be in focus to make all necessary connections. By the end of the desensitization phase, the SUD levels should be down to zero.


The client is taken back to the memory to make sure that the Positive Cognition is still relevant. Sometimes a better alternative PC is generated by the client themselves after the process. The VOC scale is used repeatedly until the client has completely accepted the new positive belief.

Body Scans

Once the desired rating on VOC and SUD scale has been achieved the physical sensations are assessed again. The client must go over the memories again and analyze themselves for any negative sensation. Sometimes additional memories can trigger the body and they are then reprocessed the same way until the body scan comes out to be clean.


This phase is to make sure the client leaves the session in the right mindset. Reliving traumatic events can weigh heavy on the human mind, which is positive imagery used to end the session and the therapist needs to make sure the client is stabilized enough between sessions. They are encouraged to use techniques taught in the initial phases. The client has to keep a record of their negative emotions triggered by present events and then use the techniques for a healthier mindset.


Revaluation is done to make sure the targeted memory has been reprocessed and positive affirmations are in effect. The self-calming techniques are encouraged to be used and templates are provided to help with responses.


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The Benefits of EMDR Therapy

Even though it hasn’t been that long since EMDR Therapy was discovered by Shapiro, it has been researched extensively. It has also been officially recognized for successful treatment of PTSD by the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs, the World Health Organization, and even the US Department of Defense.

Overcoming crisis and trauma with EMDR is a common approach now. However, EMDR is not just for PTSD but also helps resolve problems like panic and anxiety. According to the EMDR Institute, numerous researches have proven the success of EMDR Therapy with as high as 84% to 90% of single trauma victims being able to reprocess and recover.

Since it is not like conversational therapy the client does not need to go into minute details and does need to discuss every detail and aspect of the memories that trigger their trauma.

EMDR helps process the memories that were stuck in cognitive processes. EMDR gives us a chance to reevaluate these memories and change the perspective to a positive one. This helps us further make changes in ourselves and have a better more esteemed mindset.

How Long Does EMDR Therapy Last?

It completely depends on the severity of the case. While some individuals only have single event trauma it can take up to 6 to 12 sessions. While multiple events, trauma can last longer. EMDR deals with rewiring the brain and helping it reprocess memories and negative associations with it. It is safe to assume that it can sometimes require a long time to get successful results. While others might benefit from a few prolonged sessions.

EMDR therapy is considered safe by professionals and relevant organizations around the world  However, since it requires revisiting memories that cause trauma, it is valid to think about the discomfort and overwhelming feelings that it may bring.

Individuals should be prepared to go through this process and be ready consciously to make a change in themselves. It is essential that the client and therapist have a trustworthy relationship to make the therapy a success.

EMDR Therapy at Emerald Isle Health & Recovery

At Emerald Isle our clinical team works tirelessly to present a full suite of offerings that can help all of our clients overcome their struggles with mental illness and trauma. EMDR presents a valuable tool that often helps those suffering from entrenched trauma find lasting recovery. Please reach out to our Admissions staff today if you feel you might benefit from EMDR or trauma therapy more widely, we are happy to review your options and get you the help you need and deserve!