EMDR: A Phased Treatment Approach

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a phased treatment approach that was developed to assist with processing traumatic memories and for the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

With substantial clinical evidence, and both the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organisation recognising EMDR as an effective form of treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, EMDR appears to utilise the naturally occurring healing process of REM sleep to process distressing events. Anecdotal evidence also exists supporting the use of EMDR with a range of conditions such as anxiety, phobias, mood disorders, complicated grief, addictions, pain, and somatic symptoms.

Using EMDR to process traumatic material can be rapid, and certainly effective, however it isn’t a quick fix. While bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping, or sounds) form a fundamental component to EMDR therapy, it is certainly not the only part of treatment.

EMDR consists of eight phases, with each of these phases likely taking a number of sessions to move through.

These phases are:

1.  History Taking

Your therapist will take a thorough history and you will begin to formulate a list of memories to be processed.

2.  Preparation

Developing coping strategies to ensure that you are able to manage emotional distress that may arise during processing, building a relationship of trust with your therapist, and learning more about EMDR.

3.  Assessment

‘Setting up’ the memory for reprocessing. This involves describing an image, discussing the negative cognition (associated with the image), positive cognition (what you would rather believe about yourself), and how true this feels to you now. You will also identify emotions, body sensations, and how distressing the disturbance feels from 0 - 10.

4.  Desensitisation

This is where we begin to use bilateral stimulation. While holding the elements discussed in the assessment phase, you will do sets of eye movements (or tapping or sounds) and check in with your therapist in between until distress for that memory reaches 0.

5.  Installation

Using bilateral stimulation to strengthen, or install, your positive cognition.

6.  Body Scan

Bilateral stimulation is used in this phase to process any remaining body tension associated with the memory (see article on Trauma for explanation of body memories).

7.  Closure

Review of your experience, ensure emotional disturbance has subsided and you will also be asked to keep a log in between sessions of your experiences.

8.  Re-evaluation

At the beginning of each session you will reassess previously processed targets and review any changes in behaviours.

EMDR can feel like a bit of a shift from therapies focussed more on talking, with the idea of following fingers with your eyes feeling a bit strange at first, however it is a highly effective method for many who have experienced distressing events.

For more information relating to each of these phases, please take a look at the following video: