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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Vu

Healing Trauma: Exploring the Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy

Discover how EMDR Therapy can transform your journey to recovery from trauma with a structured, compassionate approach.

How EMDR Therapy Facilitates Healing from Trauma

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing's (EMDR) basic theory is to help people heal from traumatic experiences by forming connections in the brain. Just as the physical body naturally seeks to heal injuries, our innate information processing system strives towards healthy and adaptive responses. However, traumatic events can disrupt this process, causing them to become isolated within the brain and preventing growth and learning. EMDR therapy unlocks these isolated neural networks, providing them with a "do-over" opportunity to make the appropriate connections (Shapiro, 2018). Although clients may initially feel uncomfortable as they face the hurt of past experiences, this process eventually results in a greater understanding and compassion for both the situation and oneself.

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EMDR therapy unlocks isolated neural networks, giving them a chance to form proper connections. While clients may feel uncomfortable confronting past experiences initially, this leads to increased understanding and self-compassion over time. (Image credit: Lukin Center)

Understanding the Phases of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy aims to facilitate accelerated information processing to address traumatic experiences (Shapiro, 2018). At its core, EMDR therapy acknowledges the innate capacity of individuals to heal naturally but recognizes that some experiences may be too overwhelming to process independently (Hase et al., 2017). In such cases, the eight phases of EMDR therapy serve as a roadmap to guide clients through the healing process.

Phase 1: History Taking and Treatment Planning

The initial phase involves a thorough discussion between the therapist and the client to identify their reasons for seeking therapy and how EMDR therapy can best address their needs. A secure therapeutic relationship is established, and the client's history is explored to develop a personalized treatment plan.

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During the first stage, the therapist and client engage in an in-depth conversation to determine the client's motivations for seeking therapy and how EMDR therapy can effectively meet their requirements.

Phase 2: Preparation

During the preparation phase, the therapist educates the client about the EMDR therapy process, addressing any concerns or questions they may have. Establishing a secure and trustworthy therapeutic alliance facilitates the cooperative development of coping mechanisms for emotional distress.

Phase 3: Assessment

In the assessment phase, the target event is to be reprocessed, and the associated thoughts, feelings, and sensations are identified. Baseline measures are established using scales such as the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) and the Validity of Cognition (VOC).

Phase 4: Desensitization

Bilateral stimulation (BLS), such as tapping, sounds, or side-to-side eye movements, is used in desensitization while the traumatic event is the main focus. This continues until the client's distress decreases to zero or one, and new insights may emerge during this process.

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The desensitization continues until the client's distress diminishes to zero or one, and new understandings may arise throughout this procedure.

Phase 5: EMDR Therapy Installation

During installation, the client strengthens a positive belief associated with the target event until it feels completely accurate. This phase aims to solidify positive cognitive shifts and promote emotional resilience.

Phase 6: Body Scan

The body scan phase involves the client holding the target event and positive belief in mind while scanning the body for any residual physical discomfort. Any lingering disturbances are addressed and reprocessed.

Phase 7: Closure

At the end of each session, closure is provided to help the client return to a state of calm in the present moment. Reprocessing is considered complete when the client feels neutral about the event, the positive belief feels genuine, and the body is free of disturbance.

Phase 8: Reevaluation

Each new session begins with reevaluation, where the client and therapist review recently processed memories to ensure that distress remains low and positive cognitions are strong. Future targets and treatment directions are determined based on this assessment.

In conclusion

In essence, the comprehensive framework of the eight phases within EMDR therapy provides a meticulously structured pathway toward overcoming traumatic events, thereby fostering emotional resilience and overall well-being. By accepting every stage, clients can set out on a journey of transformation, sifting through the complexities of their experiences in search of a final resolution and inner serenity. For those seeking the profound benefits of EMDR therapy, DAT Therapy, situated in Downtown Vancouver, B.C., Canada, stands as a beacon of optimism and hope. Being one of the top providers of mental health services in Vietnam and Canada, DAT Therapy provides persons on the path to emotional healing and recovery with knowledgeable direction and caring support.

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The thorough structure of the eight phases in EMDR therapy offers a carefully planned route to surmounting traumatic experiences, ultimately promoting emotional strength and holistic wellness.


  1. EMDRIA. (2023, September 8th). How EMDR Therapy Can Help. 

  2. EMDRIA. (2021, August 13th). The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy. 

  3. Hase, M., Balmaceda, U.M., Ostacoli, L., Libermann., P., & Hofmann, A. (2017). The AIP model of EMDR therapy and pathogenic memories. Frontiers in Psychology 8: 1578. Open access:

  4. Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press


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