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Traumatic events are often relived by those who experience them. Your memory of the event returns with the same intensity of feeling – like it is taking place in the present moment. These can take the form of  flashbacks or nightmares.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a treatment technique which involves using side to side eye movements to recover from distressing events of the past. It is recognised as most effective in treating people with PTSD and other traumatic experiences. 

Why Does This Happen?

When traumatic events occur, the body’s natural coping mechanisms can be overwhelmed. Subsequently the memory and the accompanying sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings are inadequately processed and stored in the wrong part of the brain. These ‘raw form’ memories can be activated each time we experience a trigger situation or recollection of the original event.

EMDR Therapy

How does EMDR Therapy Work?

While it isn’t possible to erase these memories, the goal of EMDR therapy is to properly process them. This reduces their impact and the distress they cause, and helps clients to develop better coping mechanisms. This is done through an eight-phase, evidence-based approach which addresses the past, present and future aspects of a stored memory. The sessions for EMDR therapy usually last between an hour to 90 minutes. For a single disturbing event or memory, it might take anywhere between three to six sessions. Whereas complex and longer-term traumas can take up to eight and twelve sessions or more, depending on the history. It requires clients to recall distressing events while receiving bilateral sensory input, including:

  • side-to-side eye movements
  • hand tapping
  • auditory tones

The eight phases of EMDR are as follows:

  1. History and treatment planning: This is the first phase where the EMDR therapist gathers information related to the client’s history such as trauma experiences and current symptoms. Based on this, the client and the therapist formulate a treatment plan outlining specific memories to be processed in the sessions.
  2. Preparation: In this phase, the therapist explains the process to establish trust and explain the treatment in-depth. This phase also helps clients develop coping skills to manage distress and anxiety that may arise in between therapy.
  3. Assessment: The client is supported in identifying the most distressing memory related to the trauma and the negative beliefs associated with it. This phase typically involves assessing the level of distress to establish negative feelings and identify positive replacements.
  4. Desensitisation and reprocessing: The client is guided by the therapist through bilateral stimulation. This can involve eye movements, tapping and auditory techniques, based on the results of the previous phase. This involves focusing on the distressing memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. This helps reduce the emotional charge and distress associated with the memory.
  5. Installation: This is particularly to replace the negative beliefs associated with the traumatic memory and to strengthen positive replacements. The therapist encourages the client to integrate more adaptive thoughts and beliefs about themselves and the trauma.
  6. Body scan: As EMDR is a therapy associated with linking eye and body movements to assessing and treating trauma, this phase is quite important. The therapist sees if the client is now able to bring up memories of trauma without experiencing negative feelings that are no longer relevant, or if reprocessing is necessary. Which is to say that the client is guided to locate any residual tension, discomfort, or physical sensations related to the traumatic memory. This helps identify and address any remaining physical or emotional distress.
  7. Closure: As the term itself is suggestive, closure occurs at the end of every session. In this phase, the therapist helps the client return to a state of equilibrium and emotional stability. Clients learn self-soothing techniques and are encouraged to use them between therapy sessions to manage any distress that may arise.
  8. Reevaluation of treatment effect: In this final phase, the therapist and client review the progress made in previous sessions. They assess whether the targeted memory and associated distress have been adequately processed and resolved. If necessary, additional memories or issues may be addressed in future sessions.

EMDR is a structured and evidence-based therapy approach designed to help individuals process and heal from traumatic experiences. The eight phases aim to reduce the emotional and physiological distress associated with traumatic memories. Furthermore, they promote psychological healing and well-being, by “repairing” how the memory is stored in our mind.

It’s important to note that EMDR should be conducted by a trained and licensed therapist with expertise in this approach. At Select Psychology, we are very mindful of carrying out safe therapy practices and taking onboard only certified professionals. You can meet our team of professionals here or get in touch with us today for more information.



Formulated by Dr. Francine Shapiro, the reported benefits of EMDR include:

A reduction in re-experiencing trauma memories

Coping better with improved management of trauma memories

Reduced avoidance of potential triggers

Reduced feelings of stress, anxiety, irritation and hyper-vigilance

Feeling more able to engage in relationships and enjoy pleasurable activities

Reduced feelings of isolation, hopelessness and depression

A boost in self-confidence and self-esteem

This allows you to rest more easily and go about your daily business without feeling fearful and prone to panic


A wide range of psychological difficulties, in particular those that originate in trauma, can be treated by EMDR. This includes direct or indirect experiences of sexual assault, terror attack, accidents or natural disaster. These experiences often lead to a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, for which EMDR has been recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

It is also increasingly used to treat more prolonged, low-grade distress that originates in shock or loss in adult life and/or issues experienced during childhood.

EMDR therapy is also being used for the treatment of other issues including:

Personality Disorders

Gender dysphoria (feeling as though you do not identify with the gender assigned to you at birth)


Who needs to have EMDR therapy?

EMDR is a recommended treatment for various mental health problems and is suited for adolescents, teenagers, as well as teenagers for all ages. Sometimes, there will be EMDR therapists who specialise in EMDR therapy for children.

What is the difference between EMDR and CBT therapy?

CBT focuses on challenging negative thought patterns and changing behaviours that contribute to mental health problems in the here and now. Whereas EMDR focuses on processing past traumatic and disturbing events to alleviate emotional distress, using eye movements, sounds and taps.

Is EMDR talking therapy?

Though EMDR is classified as a talking therapy, it does not involve talking in detail about a distressing issue, instead it uses auditory, visual and tactile bilateral stimulation.

What are the different types of EMDR therapy?

EMDR therapy has different methods in which it can be conducted. Your EMDR therapist will work with you to determine which method is best-suited for you:

  • Visual Bilateral Stimulation: Eye movements using light bar or wand.
  • Tactile Bilateral Stimulation: Hand-held device or self tapping for stimulation.
  • Auditory Bilateral Stimulation: Use of sounds through headphones.