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How to Understand Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

mental health

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a powerful and effective mental health treatment technique designed to help individuals process and heal from trauma and other distressing life experiences. This innovative method involves specific eye movements while recalling traumatic memories, aiming to reduce their emotional impact. This article explores the principles of EMDR therapy, how it works, its benefits, and a practical checklist for attempting EMDR techniques at home.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy was developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro. The therapy is based on the idea that traumatic memories are not processed correctly by the brain, leading to persistent distress and various psychological symptoms. By using specific eye movements and other bilateral stimulation techniques, EMDR aims to help the brain reprocess these traumatic memories, reducing their emotional charge and integrating them into a person’s life narrative.

How EMDR Therapy Works

The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy is structured around eight distinct phases, each designed to facilitate the healing process. These phases are:

    History Taking and Treatment Planning:

    The therapist gathers comprehensive information about the client’s history and identifies the traumatic memories to be addressed.


    The therapist explains the EMDR process, sets expectations, and teaches the client essential coping mechanisms for managing emotional distress.


    The client identifies specific aspects of the traumatic memory, including the visual image, negative beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations associated with it.


    Using bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), the client focuses on the traumatic memory while the therapist guides them through the process, aiming to reduce the distress associated with the memory.


    Positive beliefs and emotions are strengthened and integrated, replacing the negative associations with the traumatic memory.

    Body Scan:

    The client scans their body for any residual physical tension or discomfort related to the memory, which is then addressed with additional bilateral stimulation if necessary.


    The therapist ensures the client is stable and provides techniques to manage any residual distress between sessions.


    In subsequent sessions, the therapist evaluates the progress and determines if further work on the memory is needed or if new targets should be addressed.

    The Mechanism Behind EMDR

    EMDR therapy leverages the brain’s natural healing processes, akin to the way it processes regular experiences during REM sleep. The bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones) used in EMDR therapy is thought to mimic the eye movements that occur during REM sleep, thereby facilitating the reprocessing of traumatic memories.

    Benefits of EMDR Therapy

    EMDR therapy has been extensively researched and proven effective for a variety of conditions, including:

      Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

      EMDR is particularly effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD, helping individuals process and integrate traumatic experiences.

      Anxiety and Depression:

      By addressing the root causes of distress, EMDR can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

      Phobias and Panic Disorders:

      EMDR can help desensitize individuals to specific fears and reduce panic symptoms.

      Complex Trauma:

      EMDR is beneficial for those with a history of multiple traumas or complex trauma, aiding in comprehensive emotional healing.

      How to Do EMDR Therapy at Home

      While it is highly recommended to undergo EMDR therapy with a trained professional, some individuals may seek ways to practice EMDR techniques at home. Here are some guidelines and a checklist for those interested in exploring EMDR therapy independently.

      Preparation for At-Home EMDR

        Understand the Basics of EMDR

          Research the fundamental principles of EMDR therapy.

          Familiarize yourself with the eight phases of EMDR.

          Read books or articles by EMDR experts to deepen your understanding.

            Create a Safe Environment

              Choose a quiet, comfortable space free from distractions.

              Ensure you have privacy and sufficient time to focus on the process.

              Set up a comfortable seating arrangement and have a notepad or journal nearby for jotting down your thoughts and feelings.

                Learn Self-Soothing Techniques

                  Practice deep breathing, grounding exercises, and other relaxation techniques.

                  Develop a list of positive affirmations and coping mechanisms.

                  Have a plan for self-care activities to engage in after your EMDR session, such as taking a walk, listening to calming music, or engaging in a hobby.

                  How to Perform EMDR at Home

                    Identify the Traumatic Memory

                      Select a specific memory that you want to address.

                      Write down the details of the memory, including the visual image, negative beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations.

                      Rate the intensity of the distress on a scale of 0 to 10 to track your progress.

                        Set Up Bilateral Stimulation

                          Use eye movements: Focus on a specific point or object and move your eyes back and forth.

                          Tap on your knees or shoulders alternately.

                          Use audio cues, such as listening to alternating sounds in each ear.

                          Experiment with different methods to find what works best for you.

                            Desensitization Process

                              Focus on the traumatic memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation.

                              Allow yourself to experience any emotions and sensations that arise.

                              Continue the process until the distress associated with the memory diminishes.

                              Take breaks if needed, and use your self-soothing techniques to stay grounded.

                                Installation of Positive Beliefs

                                  Identify a positive belief or affirmation to replace the negative association.

                                  Focus on the positive belief while engaging in bilateral stimulation.

                                  Reinforce the new belief until it feels true and integrated.

                                  Write down the positive belief and repeat it to yourself regularly to strengthen its impact.

                                    Body Scan

                                      Scan your body for any residual tension or discomfort.

                                      Address any lingering physical sensations with additional bilateral stimulation.

                                      Note any areas of your body that feel relaxed and at ease as a result of the process.

                                        Closure and Self-Care

                                          Ensure you feel stable and grounded before ending the session.

                                          Practice self-care activities, such as journaling, meditation, or talking to a supportive friend.

                                          Reflect on your experience and note any changes in your emotional state.

                                          At-Home EMDR Checklist

                                          Here is a practical checklist for conducting EMDR therapy at home:


                                              Understand EMDR basics.

                                              Create a safe, quiet environment.

                                              Learn self-soothing techniques.

                                                Identify the Memory

                                                  Choose a specific traumatic memory.

                                                  Document details of the memory.

                                                  Rate the intensity of distress on a scale of 0 to 10.

                                                    Set Up Bilateral Stimulation

                                                      Use eye movements, tapping, or audio cues.

                                                      Experiment with different methods to find what works best.

                                                        Desensitization Process

                                                          Focus on the memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation.

                                                          Allow emotions and sensations to surface.

                                                          Continue until distress decreases.

                                                          Take breaks if needed and use self-soothing techniques.

                                                            Install Positive Beliefs

                                                              Identify and focus on a positive belief.

                                                              Engage in bilateral stimulation to reinforce the belief.

                                                              Write down and repeat the positive belief regularly.

                                                                Body Scan

                                                                  Check for residual physical sensations.

                                                                  Address any tension with additional stimulation.

                                                                  Note areas of relaxation.

                                                                    Closure and Self-Care

                                                                      Ensure stability and grounding.

                                                                      Practice self-care activities.

                                                                      Reflect on your experience and note emotional changes.


                                                                      EMDR therapy is a transformative approach for healing trauma and other distressing life experiences. While professional guidance is highly recommended, understanding the principles of EMDR and following the guidelines for at-home practice can be beneficial for some individuals. By creating a safe environment, learning self-soothing techniques, and following the structured process, you can explore the potential of EMDR therapy in your journey toward emotional healing and well-being. Remember, self-care and patience are key components.

                                                                      Trending Books 

                                                                      “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk


                                                                      This book explores how trauma impacts the body and mind, offering insights into therapeutic approaches, including EMDR, to help individuals heal from traumatic experiences.

                                                                      “Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy” by Francine Shapiro


                                                                      Written by the creator of EMDR therapy, this book provides an accessible guide to using EMDR techniques to overcome distressing memories and improve emotional well-being.

                                                                      “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma” by Peter A. Levine


                                                                      This book introduces readers to Somatic Experiencing, a method for healing trauma that complements EMDR by focusing on bodily sensations and the body’s natural healing processes.

                                                                       ViHealth Apps 

                                                                      “MindShift CBT”


                                                                      An app designed to help individuals manage anxiety using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques. It includes guided meditations, thought journals, and coping strategies that can complement EMDR therapy.



                                                                      A popular meditation app that offers guided sessions, sleep stories, and breathing exercises to help reduce stress and anxiety, making it a useful tool alongside EMDR therapy.

                                                                      “PTSD Coach”


                                                                      Developed by the VA National Center for PTSD, this app provides tools for managing symptoms, tracking progress, and connecting with support, ideal for those undergoing EMDR therapy.

                                                                      Trending Gadgets 

                                                                      “Muse 2: The Brain Sensing Headband”


                                                                      A wearable device that provides real-time feedback on brain activity, heart rate, and breathing patterns to enhance meditation practices, which can support relaxation and focus during EMDR therapy.

                                                                      “Apollo Neuro”


                                                                      A wearable device that uses gentle vibrations to improve the body’s resilience to stress, helping users stay calm and focused, which can be beneficial during and after EMDR sessions.



                                                                      Wearable devices that use bilateral alternating vibrations to reduce stress and anxiety, offering a portable and convenient option for bilateral stimulation in EMDR therapy.

                                                                      Additional Resources for Mental Health Support

                                                                      Hotlines and Support Services

                                                                      • USA: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

                                                                      • Canada: Crisis Services Canada – 1-833-456-4566

                                                                      • Australia: Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14

                                                                      • UK: Samaritans – 116 123

                                                                      • Europe: European Emergency Number – 112

                                                                      Online Communities

                                                                      • Reddit: r/mentalhealth, r/depression, r/anxiety

                                                                      • Facebook Groups: Mental Health Awareness, Anxiety and Depression Support

                                                                      • Forums: Psych Central, HealthUnlocked

                                                                      For More Information And Support On Improving Mental Health, Consider Exploring The Following Resources:

                                                                      Note: By integrating these strategies and resources into your life, you can navigate the complexities of intrusive thoughts and pave the way for a healthier, more empowered future.