EMDR: What to Expect

What to expect when in EMDR therapy.

EMDR What to Expect

by Joshua Nave, LLMSW

Hello everyone!  In my previous post, I mentioned that my patients frequently asked what EMDR was, and though the previous post does well in answering this question, some of you may still be asking, “Well how do you do any of that?” In this second part to my EMDR blog series, we’ll be getting deeper into what an EMDR session looks like and what the stages of EMDR are. Let’s start with the basics; how do we get the brain to engage in its process of natural healing?

EMDR works through the use of bilateral stimulation (BLS).

BLS is any rhythmic external stimulation that activates both sides of the brain. BLS is achieved through visual, auditory, or tactile stimulation, but the most common of these is a stimulating movement of the eyes back and forth (Amano & Toichi, 2016). One of the most basic methods of achieving visual stimulation is by watching the clinician move their fingers at various speeds. By utilizing BLS, the therapist is able to assist the client in achieving increased levels of positive cognitions (or thoughts) as well as desensitization (decreasing stimulation) of negative cognitions, feelings, or memories.  Studies are still undergoing to understand the exact mechanisms that cause BLS to have these effects (Amano & Toichi, 2016), but the research agrees that BLS is a key part of the EMDR process.

This brings up another question; are EMDR sessions just sitting around and watching something move back and forth a lot with my eyes? No, EMDR is an approach that has a variety of steps to achieving healing (Shapiro, 2019). In fact, there are eight stages to EMDR, which are: history taking and treatment planning, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and finally, re-evaluation (Jayan & Menon, 2010). While I won’t go through explaining details of each of these stages in this post, it’s important to remember that the stages of EMDR are not linear in nature, but are in fact fluid. This means that at any point you could be moving between the various stages based upon the guidance of your therapist.

EMDR is a simple and at the same time complex form of psychotherapy directed around accessing your brain’s natural capacity to heal itself.

 I hope you all learned more about this fantastic therapy for achieving healing from traumas, negative cognitions, and harmful memories today. Before we close up today, I would like to remind you all not to try these methods yourself at home. Each therapist who claims to utilize EMDR should have gone through an EMDRIA (https://www.emdria.org/page/21) approved training as well as possessing an appropriate degree for clinical counseling.  While EMDR is an amazing healing technique, performing it outside of a secure environment under the supervision of a trained therapist could lead to re-traumatization.

If you would like to experience true psychological healing and are interested in seeing if EMDR could work for you, please schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with me today.  Together, we can achieve the healing you deserve!


Amano, Tamaki. Toichi, Motomi. (2016). The role of alternating bilateral stimulation in establishing positive cognition in EMDR therapy: A multi-channel near-infrared spectroscopy study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5061320/.

Jayan, C. & Menon, Sukanya. (2010). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A conceptual framework. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122545/.

Shapiro, Francine. (2019). EMDR institute inc. Retrieved from https://www.emdr.com/francine-shapiro-ph-d/

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