Key Principles of EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. It is primarily used to treat individuals who have experienced traumatic events and are suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other trauma-related conditions. EMDR is recognized as a safe and effective evidence-based treatment for trauma. It has helped many individuals process traumatic memories and move towards healing and recovery.

Here are the key principles and components of EMDR therapy:

Bilateral Stimulation

EMDR involves bilateral stimulation, which can be achieved through various means, including side-to-side eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones. This bilateral stimulation is believed to facilitate the processing of traumatic memories.

Phases of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy typically consists of eight phases, which are as follows:

  • History-taking and Treatment Planning: The therapist gathers information about the client’s history and identifies specific traumatic memories to target.
  • Preparation: Clients are educated about the EMDR process and taught relaxation techniques to help them manage distressing emotions during therapy.
  • Assessment: Specific target memories or aspects of the traumatic event are selected for processing. Clients are asked to identify negative beliefs associated with these memories.
  • Desensitization: In this phase, clients are guided by the therapist to focus on the traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. The goal is to desensitize the emotional charge associated with the memory.
  • Installation: Positive beliefs are identified and installed to replace the negative beliefs associated with the traumatic memory.
  • Body Scan: Clients are asked to scan their bodies for any residual tension or discomfort associated with the traumatic memory. This is addressed with bilateral stimulation until the discomfort is reduced.
  • Closure: The therapist helps the client return to a state of equilibrium and emotional stability if necessary. Clients are provided with self-soothing techniques to use outside of therapy.
  • Reevaluation: In the final phase, the therapist and client review the progress made and assess whether additional sessions are needed.

Bilateral Stimulation Explanation

While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, it is believed that the bilateral stimulation in EMDR may help the brain reprocess traumatic memories by allowing the individual to access and integrate these memories more adaptively.

Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) Model

EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing model, which suggests that trauma disrupts the brain’s natural processing of information, leading to the persistence of distressing memories and emotions. EMDR aims to facilitate the brain’s ability to process and adaptively integrate these memories.


EMDR trauma therapy has been found effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression related to trauma. It is often used as a standalone treatment or in combination with other therapeutic approaches.

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