What is EMDR Therapy?

What is EMDR Therapy?

In the landscape of mental health treatment, there's a remarkable approach that stands out for its efficacy in addressing trauma and related conditions: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. ***


Definition and Origins of EMDR

EMDR, developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, is a psychotherapy approach that integrates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with bilateral stimulation to process distressing memories and alleviate their associated symptoms. Through guided eye movements, taps, or sounds, EMDR facilitates the brain's natural ability to heal from psychological wounds. **

How EMDR Works in the Brain

EMDR's mechanism operates on the premise that trauma disrupts the brain's processing of information, leading to maladaptive responses and symptoms. Integrating bilateral stimulation, EMDR assists the brain in reprocessing traumatic memories, transforming them into more adaptive narratives and reducing their emotional charge. *

EMDR is guided by several core principles, including the importance of accessing and processing traumatic memories, fostering adaptive beliefs, and addressing associated sensory experiences. Through a structured protocol, EMDR empowers individuals to integrate past experiences into their present reality, promoting healing and resilience. *****

Common Mental Health Issues Addressed by EMDR** 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

  • PTSD is a complex condition characterized by intrusive memories, hypervigilance, and avoidance behaviors following exposure to a traumatic event. EMDR targets these symptoms by facilitating the reprocessing of traumatic memories, allowing individuals to reclaim a sense of safety and control.

Anxiety Disorders:

  • Anxiety disorders encompass a range of conditions marked by excessive worry, fear, and physiological arousal. EMDR offers relief by addressing the underlying trauma fueling anxiety, enabling individuals to develop healthier coping mechanisms and reduce symptom severity.


  • Depression manifests as persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and apathy, often stemming from unresolved trauma or adverse life experiences. EMDR intervenes by processing emotional wounds and fostering a more positive outlook, leading to symptom alleviation and improved mood.


  • Phobias are intense and irrational fears of specific objects or situations, often rooted in past trauma. EMDR dismantles phobic responses by reprocessing associated memories and instilling a sense of safety and mastery over triggers.

Childhood Trauma and Neglect:

  • Childhood trauma and neglect can profoundly impact one's emotional well-being, contributing to long-term psychological difficulties. EMDR addresses these wounds by revisiting early experiences, fostering healing, and nurturing self-compassion.

Grief and Loss:

  • Grief encompasses the complex emotions and adjustments following the loss of a loved one or significant life change. EMDR supports individuals in processing their grief, integrating the loss into their narrative, and finding meaning in the midst of sorrow.

The Eight Essential Steps of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy*** 

1. Initial Assessment and Treatment Planning:

  • This first step involves a thorough assessment and collaboration between the therapist and the client. The therapist gathers information about the client's history, current symptoms, and goals for therapy. Together, they identify specific target memories or experiences to address during EMDR sessions.

2. Preparation Phase: Building Rapport and Establishing Safety:

  • Establishing a strong therapeutic alliance is essential for successful EMDR therapy. During this phase, the therapist builds trust and ensures the client feels safe and supported. Grounding techniques and coping strategies are introduced to help the client manage distress during the processing phases

3. Assessment Phase: 

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy often involves several assessments to evaluate a client's readiness for the therapy, to monitor progress, and to measure outcomes. These assessments typically cover areas such as trauma history, symptom severity, and overall psychological functioning. These can be administered in the office or virtually through a secure portal. 

4. Desensitization Phase: Processing Traumatic Memories:

  • This phase is most commonly thought of in EMDR therapy. The client recalls the targeted traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as following a light bar with their eyes, holding buzzers, or listening to alternating tones. This dual attention allows the brain to reprocess the memory, reducing its emotional intensity and associated distress.

5. Installation Phase: Strengthening Positive Beliefs:

  • Once the distress associated with the traumatic memory has decreased, the focus shifts to reinforcing positive beliefs and adaptive coping skills. The client identifies and internalizes positive affirmations or beliefs that counteract the negative beliefs stemming from the traumatic experience.

6. Body Scan: Addressing Physical Sensations Related to Trauma:

  • Trauma often manifests not only in emotional distress but also in physical sensations and discomfort. In this phase, the client tunes into any remaining physical sensations associated with the trauma and works with the therapist to process and alleviate them.

7. Closure: Grounding Techniques and Self-Care Strategies:

  • After each processing session, it's crucial to help the client return to a state of stability and calm. Closure involves teaching the client grounding techniques and self-soothing strategies to use between sessions. This helps them feel empowered and equipped to manage any residual emotions that may arise.

8. Reevaluation: Monitoring Progress and Identifying Remaining Targets:

  • Throughout the EMDR therapy journey, the therapist regularly assesses the client's progress and adjusts the treatment plan as needed. New targets may emerge as old ones are resolved, and it's essential to continue addressing any lingering symptoms or areas of distress.

In summary, EMDR therapy follows a structured yet flexible approach to help individuals process and heal from traumatic experiences. By guiding clients through these seven steps, therapists empower them to confront their past, reframe their beliefs, and move forward with renewed strength and resilience.

In conclusion, EMDR offers a transformative path to healing for individuals grappling with the aftermath of trauma and related mental health challenges. As we continue to explore the depths of trauma treatment, EMDR stands as a beacon of hope, guiding individuals toward resilience and wholeness. For those seeking effective trauma therapy, I encourage you to consider EMDR and embark on a journey of healing and growth. At Heritage Counseling, we're dedicated to supporting you on this path toward a brighter tomorrow.

Remember, healing is within reach, and you don't have to walk this path alone. If you feel that EMDR could be the right treatment path for you, please contact Heritage Counseling and Consulting at 214-363-2345 to be paired with an EMDR trained clinician.