EMDR Therapy: How Does It Work?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a psychotherapy method shown to help people recover from trauma symptoms. When we think of therapy, the image that probably comes to mind is sitting in a counselor’s office and talking about how you feel. EMDR is framed a bit differently. Mental health professionals who are efficient with EMDR help heal the brain naturally from trauma.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR’s goal is to help the individual understand and heal from distressing experiences. The method involves moving the eyes in a specific pattern while processing traumatic thoughts. Depending on the severity of the trauma, an individual will participate in 6-12 sessions. There are 8 phases in total that occur during these sessions.

  1. History and Gathering Information: This phase consists of your mental health provider gathering information about you and your past to see if you are a right fit for the EMDR process. As the client, you will identify what events impact your life, as well as goals you would like to achieve in therapy.
  2. Preparation: Understanding expectations and education about EMDR will be important before you begin. Your health care provider will want to explain the process to you before you agree to participate.
  3. Assessment: In order to complete the process, you will want to identify a specific memory or event that you wish to overcome. You will analyze your personal thought processes and emotions.
  4. Desensitization and Reprocessing: During this phase, therapists will have you describe specific feelings when remembering the traumatic experience. You will identify how this situation affects daily functioning and other new thoughts you begin to experience.
  5. Installation: This is the implementation of a positive belief. The negative thoughts and emotions will be reframed and the therapist will encourage that you focus on this newfound belief.
  6. Body Scan: This stage will focus on physical symptoms of the body when processing trauma. Professionals will focus on tension, eye movements, and involuntary agitation. They will teach skills to help you relax.
  7. Stabilization: Coping skills will be taught during this phase and the counselor will encourage the use of them in between sessions in order to reach stability.
  8. Reevaluation: Once you have achieved your treatment goals, progress will be evaluated by the mental health professional. They will explain what to expect with your future, and how to seek additional treatment if need be.


Our minds are collections of thoughts, memories, beliefs, and experiences that make us who we are. The cells connect to one another in order to store memories. When a disturbing event takes place, these networks do not work properly. Trauma is difficult for your brain to heal, so instead of processing in a healthy way, it will try to push away and repress the memory. EMDR focuses on reprocessing, which is teaching your brain a healthy way to understand the event. When remembering the trauma, symptoms will not feel as severe and will be more manageable.

What Does EMDR Treat?

The most common use for EMDR is to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but other disorders it treats may include:

  • Anxiety Disorders (generalized anxiety disorders, social anxiety, and phobias)
  • Depression Disorders (persistent depressive and major depressive disorder)
  • Dissociative Disorders (amnesia and derealization disorder)
  • Eating Disorders (anorexia and bulimia)
  • Gender Dysphoria
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Personality Disorders (borderline and antisocial personality disorder).

It is important to conduct research before engaging with EMDR treatment. You’ll want to understand the process of EMDR and even research professionally trained therapists in your area. Do some self-reflection and decide if you are ready to process and heal from past trauma. If you feel EMDR is right for you, reach out and schedule a consultation today with one of out EMDR trained Therapists!