How Does EMDR Work? Discover the 8 stages of EMDR Therapy

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Have you suffered one or multiple traumatic events that cause you ongoing stress? Has that stress caused relationships or career setbacks or prevented you from living a fulfilled life? Post-traumatic stress disorder can effect all areas of life. This can make its effects difficult to contain and heal from.

The good news is there is a newer treatment available to help to reduce the effects of your painful memories. That new therapy is called EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

In this post, we will discuss what EMDR is, how does EMDR work, is online therapy effective, and how to find an qualified therapist.

What is EMDR?

Dr. Francine Shapiro first developed the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treatment in the 1980s. The way Dr. Shapiro discovered EMDR was incredibly simple; While on a walk, Dr. Shapiro realized that eye movement helped reduce her negative emotions that were brought on by distressing thoughts. Through her own experience, she found that eye movements could help people heal from past trauma.

EMDR treatment has been shown to reduce negative emotions and help process traumatic memories to help “unstick” stuck memories to heal the mind and body. Post-traumatic stress disorder especially can be improved with the use of EMDR therapy. Still, other conditions like anxiety and depression can also benefit from this therapy.

How Does EMDR Work?

When you undergo EMDR therapy, you can expect a structured approach that consists of eight distinct phases. Each phase plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of this mental health therapy.

History Taking

The first EMDR phase focuses on understanding your history, trauma, and experiences. While gathering your personal history, your therapist will write down information about your past and any events that may have contributed to your current symptoms.


In the second EMDR phase, your therapist will teach you relaxation techniques that can help you manage stress and anxiety during the treatment. The addition of relaxation techniques will create a safe and supportive environment for you to work on any emotional difficulties.


During the third EMDR phase, your therapist will assess and help you identify specific traumatic memories and goals for the therapy. In addition, you will work together to determine which memories and experiences contribute to your negative beliefs and feelings.


The fourth phase of EMDR therapy is desensitization, where eye movement reduces the intensity of negative emotions associated with past traumatic events. Reprocessing may involve using sounds, tapping, or other sensory experiences instead of eye movement, depending on what works best for you.


The fifth EMDR phase involves installation. Your therapist will work with you to develop positive visualizations and affirmations that can replace negative thoughts or beliefs. These techniques can be a powerful step in your healing process, as you can shift your attention away from negative experiences to positive resources and experiences you can draw from.

Body Scan

During the sixth EMDR phase, you will learn to recognize any physical sensations in your body related to your trauma. Recognizing what physical feelings you are experiencing during distress can help you develop greater awareness of the connection between your body and your emotional state. This understanding can lead to a deeper consciousness of your patterns and beliefs, a crucial step in the healing journey.


The seventh EMDR phase closure is where you will return to positive coping strategies introduced earlier and utilized throughout therapy. Revisiting the coping strategies you’ve learned can help you feel more empowered and confident in managing your emotions in challenging situations.


Finally, in the eighth EMDR phase, you and your therapist will evaluate your progress and determine the next steps for your treatment. Re-evaluation helps to reflect on your emotional changes since the beginning of therapy and decide whether you are ready to move forward or need additional support.

Overall, EMDR therapy is a powerful and effective approach to dealing with various emotional difficulties. The structured approach of EMDR can help you understand your struggles and gain greater control over your emotional state.

Is Online EMDR Effective?

Online EMDR therapy sessions have become increasingly popular due to the convenience and accessibility they offer. As long as there is a reliable internet connection, clients can access EMDR therapy from the comfort of their own homes or during breaks at work. Online EMDR sessions are equally effective as in-person sessions and have been proven to produce positive patient results.

One significant benefit of online EMDR therapy sessions is that clients can participate regardless of location, which is important for individuals living in remote areas or with mobility issues. Online EMDR sessions allow access for anyone with an internet connection to receive the therapeutic benefits of EMDR.

Additionally, for those with post-traumatic stress disorder, the ability to receive counseling without the potential stress of facing triggers that can occur by leaving the house or driving to their therapist’s office can mean the difference between receiving therapy and not.

Another benefit of online EMDR therapy sessions is the level of comfort they offer. Many clients may feel more at ease participating in EMDR therapy from their homes than in an unfamiliar clinical setting. Increasing a client’s comfort level can lead to better outcomes as they may be more willing to divulge personal and sensitive information if they are in a space that feels safest.

Online EMDR therapy sessions are also generally more cost-effective than in-person therapy. Clients can save on transportation and other associated costs, making treatment more affordable and accessible.

Another essential factor to consider is that online EMDR therapy sessions are as confidential as in-person sessions. Information shared during therapy is protected and secured through encrypted software systems, ensuring that clients’ sensitive information is not easily accessible by unauthorized persons, so there is no need to worry about confidentiality issues.

Finding an EMDR Therapist

If you’re considering EMDR therapy, finding an experienced and qualified therapist should be your top priority. Here are some steps to consider to help you find the right professional for your needs:

Look for specialized training:

EMDR is a specialized therapy; not all therapists are trained in this approach. Look for professionals who have received specialized training in EMDR from an accredited institution. Often, therapists list their available therapy and treatment types on their websites. Another option would be to call the therapist’s office and confirm they offer the therapy you are interested in.

Consider the cost:

EMDR therapy, like most therapies, can be costly, and not all insurance plans cover this type of treatment. Before committing to a therapist, it’s essential to understand the sessions’ cost and determine your insurance coverage.

Contact your insurance company to verify that EMDR therapy is covered under your mental health coverage. Knowing the potential cost you are responsible for, whether total cost or copay or that your insurance covers the entire session, can set an accurate expectation and ease anxiety related to the cost of therapy that can truly benefit you.

Connection with your therapist:

It’s important to feel comfortable with your therapist, as the relationship between you and your therapist is vital to the therapy process. Consider personality, communication style, and overall fit when choosing a therapist.

Finding a qualified and experienced EMDR professional may take time, but it can ensure that you receive the highest level of care throughout your healing process.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy may be the key you’ve been missing to heal from post-traumatic stress disorder. Finding an experienced EMDR therapist with specialized training in this approach can ensure that you receive the highest level of care for your emotional needs.

If you’re considering trying an EMDR treatment plan for better mental health or would like more information, give us a call or start here to schedule an appointment. To verify insurance coverage, don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our scheduling page for a full list of the insurances we accept.

With patience and a belief that you can grow and heal from trauma, EMDR therapy could be just what you need on your journey toward becoming the healthiest version of you!

To understand the benefits and potential side effects of EMDR therapy further, check out our post “What Are the Dangers of EDMR Therapy?”.

Picture of Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

All articles are written in conjunction with the Makin Wellness research team. The content on this page is not a replacement for professional diagnosis, treatment, or informed advice. It is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before making any decisions or taking action. Please refer to our terms of use for further details.

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