Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is not a new therapeutic technique, but many people are still unfamiliar with the benefits of this therapy. EMDR was developed in the 1990s to help trauma survivors and others who want to work through damaging events in their lives without discussing the painful specifics of past events.

Studies have shown that EMDR is effective. It can provide quick relief from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). Explore our site to see the potential of EMDR to improve your quality of life, and when you’re ready, Begin Here.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is safe and has been recommended by the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization to treat PTSD. Therapists also use EMDR therapy to treat other mental health issues, including:

Self-esteem issues
Chronic Pain
Addiction Disorders
Panic Attacks
Eating Disorders

8 Phases

There are eight phases of EMDR. While the process is different for everyone, and some may take longer to get through the history and preparation phases, it's possible to work through all of the steps in one therapy session.

Client History and Treatment Planning

EMDR begins with a discussion between the client and therapist about the reasons they are seeking therapy. The therapist will explain how EMDR might be used to help address their issues. The therapist takes a patient history so they can develop an effective treatment plan that is sensitive to the client’s needs. During phase one, the therapist will also assess the client’s internal and external resources.


During preparation, the therapist explains everything about the EMDR process, including terms they might use. This is also the time to set expectations. The client may ask any questions they have about EMDR.

The client and therapist collaborate to plan specific coping techniques in case the therapy causes emotional disturbance. Phases one and two may move slowly, but it is important the client feels confident in the EMDR process before moving to phase three.


In this phase, the client and therapist work to identify what is referred to as the “target event.” The client will share any feelings, images, beliefs, or other sensations they associated with this event. The therapist uses the Subjective Units of Disturbance scale (SUD) and the Validity of Cognition scale (VOC) to create a baseline measurement that is used to assess improvement as therapy progresses.


Phases four, five, and six are referred to as “reprocessing” phases and involve a technique known as bilateral stimulation, which may include sounds, taps, eye movements, or other techniques intended to activate the client’s information processing system while keeping them grounded and aware in the present moment.

During desensitization, the therapist begins bilateral stimulation as the client focuses on the target event. Bilateral stimulation continues until the client registers zero on the SUD.  New sensations, feelings, beliefs, and images may emerge at this time.


Installation begins once the desensitization process is complete. During desensitization, the client attaches positive beliefs to the target event until those positive beliefs feel true.

For example, a client’s original belief about a traumatic event might be something like “That happened because I am unlovable and deserve to be mistreated.” The new belief being installed might be “I deserve to be loved and treated with respect.”

Phase 6
Body Scan

Body scanning refers to the client simultaneously holding the target event in their mind, holding the newly installed positive belief in their mind, and mentally scanning their body from head to toe to detect any lingering physical disturbance or discomfort.

Physical sensations help to indicate how fully the triggering event has been reprocessed. The VOC scale is used to measure the results of a body scan. A patient who feels absolutely no uncomfortable sensations would measure VOC=0.

Phase 7

Every EMDR session ends with closure, during which the therapist helps the client return to a calm state of mind. Closure is performed even if the reprocessing is not complete.

It may take several sessions to fully reprocess a triggering event (meaning their feelings about the event are neutral and their body is clear of disturbance). However, closure after each session is important to help the client process the events of a single EMDR session and regain emotional balance before leaving the therapist’s office.

Phase 8

Each new session begins with reevaluation. During this process, the therapist and client discuss the previous EMDR session and processed memories. The goal is to ensure that distress levels have remained low and the positive installation continues. 

EMDR therapy is not a straight line. In some cases, new beliefs or sensations about the targeting event will arise between sessions and the positive installation will weaken. It may be necessary to repeat the steps of reprocessing several times before the event is fully reprocessed and the new positive belief remains firmly installed.

Unlike traditional talk therapy, EMDR seeks to help people process traumatic memories relatively quickly and reintegrate them into their lives. The end goal is that the brain and body will no longer associate the upsetting memory with trauma. The process of EMDR is designed to remove the emotional charge associated with the memory.

There’s little talking with EMDR, especially after the initial phases. You won’t be required
to have an in-depth discussion about painful past experiences or do homework between
sessions. Given the reluctance of many people who have suffered from trauma, including combat veterans, to discuss their experience, this factor makes EMDR an ideal treatment.

What Does An EMDR Session Look Like?

During an EMDR session, your therapist will gather the information that’s pertinent to the issues you want to resolve. The therapist may ask you to hold an image linked to a negative belief in your mind. As you focus on the image, the therapist will ask what, if any, physical sensations you’re feeling.

As you focus on the memory or sensation, the therapist will ask you to consider a positive belief or statement that could be true if your issue were resolved. As you hold the positive thoughts in your mind, the therapist will lead you through a series of bilateral stimulation techniques such as guided eye movements, tapping, or alternating sounds.

The theory behind EMDR is that bilateral stimulation helps the brain reprocess the event, removing the negative or painful emotions and replacing them with something positive.

EMDR can be especially helpful for clients working through long-held beliefs. For example, EMDR might help a person reprocess “My spouse left me because I’m unworthy of love” into “I’ve been freed from an unhappy marriage.” The second perception is a much less painful way of looking at the event.

If at any time during the process your emotions become too intense, you’re free to take a break. EMDR is not hypnosis, and you are in control of your thoughts and actions at all times.

Schedule now and start feeling better right away.

EMDR Effectiveness

“In EMDR, traumatic material need not be verbalized; instead, patients are directed to think about their traumatic experiences without having to discuss them.”

~ American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines
(2004, p.18)

The effect of traumatic life experiences on an individual’s psychological well-being has been quite well researched. EMDR therapy is an evidence-based treatment for trauma that works quickly and does not require patients to provide a detailed description of negative events or to complete homework assignments between therapy sessions.

Since 1989, randomized studies, clinical reports, and evaluations of the eye movement component of EMDR (bilateral stimulation) have been scientifically conducted and reviewed. Close research has concluded that EMDR is an efficient and effective approach for addressing the psychological symptoms that stem from adverse life experiences. Of particular note is one study done by Kaiser Permanente which reported that 100% of single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple-trauma victims no longer had PTSD after a mean of six 50-minute EMDR therapy sessions.1

Other Benefits Of EMDR

Even people who have not experienced trauma can benefit from the EMDR process.

EMDR helps you change thinking patterns by identifying and challenging the negative thoughts that clutter your brain. Once you’ve uncovered the origin of a negative or distorted thought, you can reframe it into a positive one.

Untreated chronic anxiety can be debilitating. EMDR can teach you how to anticipate and manage anxious feelings as they arise. Once you’ve learned how to anticipate thoughts or situations that provoke anxiety, you can learn how to change your emotional response to those experiences.

Having low self-esteem makes it difficult to stay motivated, achieve goals, and make other positive changes in your life. EMDR targets the upsetting memories and self-talk that erode self-esteem from within. By eliminating internal turmoil, you are free to create a greater sense of happiness and achieve self-improvement.

While it may take several appointments to fully resolve a long-held belief, clients often experience improvement in their issues after the first EMDR session. Because it works directly on the pathways of brain function and not on the deep excavation of personal history, results from EMDR are typically fast.

This timeline also makes EMDR therapy a good option for dealing with temporary life circumstances such as grief or situational depression.

Does EMDR Therapy Work Online?

EMDR is an ideal candidate for virtual mental health therapy. All that’s required is a safe, quiet place where the client and therapist can communicate privately.

Cyti Psychological therapists are dedicated to providing high-quality therapy to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Our fully licensed therapists are available to provide EMDR and other types of therapy 24/7. Schedule your EMDR or other therapy session today at Cyti Psychological.

See how EMDR therapy works online.

No matter what you’re going through, You’re Not Alone.

The Cyti Clinical Team

Cyti Psychological therapists are highly qualified and licensed mental health professionals with a passion for helping people thrive. Whether you need help coping with trauma, feel your personal growth is stuck, or are curious about EMDR and how it may benefit you and your quality of life, reach out today.

Kari Peel
Ashley Laube
Clint Edwards
Mariam Pandes
Patricia Kovars