Have you attended therapy and feel like you are stuck?  Or have you attended therapy for months or years and aren't able to get rid of an unwanted knee jerk reaction? It's likely you have unprocessed trauma that affects the way you think and respond. For example, if something happened that made you feel unwanted or unlovable, when this same thought, feeling, or physical sensation gets triggered you are likely responding from a multitude of experiences that fed the negative cognition or thought of being unlovable. Hence, your reaction may seem to be an "over reaction."  EMDR works to get rid of the negative cognition and replace it with a healthy more adaptive cognition; "I am lovable." So in the future your reactions can better match the existing situation rather than the past trauma.  EMDR processes the past trauma so that it can still be recalled but without the intensity of reliving the situation, feelings, or sensations of the original event.   

It is a unique therapy to help client's reprocess traumatic memories, images, feelings, and physical sensations.  It utilizes bilateral stimulation to assist the client to access traumatic memories while staying grounded in the present day.  There are different techniques for bilateral stimulation, with the most common being eye movements. 

What is bilateral stimulation? Good question. Bilateral stimulation is attention given to an external stimuli (visual, auditory or tactile) which occur in a rhythmic right-left pattern. For example, visual bilateral stimulation could involve watching a hand or moving light alternating from right to left and back again. It is powerful way to engage both "sides" of the brain; logic and emotions. 


  • Phase 1 History- Your therapist will take your history to establish a treatment plan; including identifying which memories (targets) to start with will be decided collaboratively with yourself and your therapist. 
  • Phase 2 Preparation- Your therapist will explain and prepare you for the healing process. Relaxation/calming exercises will be taught. Your therapist will assist you with creating resources/support plan for how you can cope with intense feelings, thoughts, and sensations that may arise during and/or between therapy sessions.  At this stage you will also determine what your cue will be if you want to stop processing in the event that things get too intense; a stop signal.
  • Phase 3 Assessment- Each target will be assessed or measured for level of disturbance (how disturbing it is to you) on a SUDS scale (0 being no disturbance and 10 being severely disturbing). In addition, you and your therapist will discover the negative cognition(s) that have been problematic for you. As well as determine what positive cognition will be installed or reinforced. At this point, the therapist will ask you to estimate how true the positive belief/cognition is using the 1-to-7 Validity of Cognition (VOC) scale; 1 equals completely false, and 7 equals completely true.
  • Phase 4 Desensitization- You will be given instructions to focus on an external stimuli while keeping in mind the past memory. Then "just notice." You can't do it wrong. Your brain knows what to do, as it naturally wants to heal from the trauma. Your therapist will assist you if needed for blocks that may naturally occur. Your therapist will also follow your lead and be aware of other experiences that arise for possible future targets. 
  • Phase 5 Installation- This is the phase where the positive cognition or thought will be installed, replacing the old negative cognition. It will be reinforced using bilateral stimulation. 
  • Phase 6 Body Scan- After the positive cognition is installed, you will be asked if you feel any residual tension in your body. If so, processing will continue. 
  • Phase 7 Closure- Ending the session on a positive note (using a centering exercise) so that you don't leave with intense emotions, thoughts or sensations that arise during processing. 
  • Phase 8 Reevaluation- The therapist will check in with you regarding the previous session and any residual material that needs to be processed. 

For additional information. see the EMDRIA.org website