Online Trauma, EMDR and IFS Therapy in San Francisco  |  Beyond Words Psychotherapy  |  44 Tehama St, San Francisco, CA 94105  |  Tel: 510-735-8868

What Can You Expect During EMDR Treatment?

When we experience extreme anxiety, stress, abuse, or some other traumatic event, the experience becomes stored in our brains with all of the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompanied the event.

Unfortunately, due to the severity of the emotional disturbance caused by such events, our brains can become overwhelmed and incapable of processing these experiences effectively. The thoughts and feelings associated with these events become “trapped” in our nervous systems, and it is this unconscious, trapped distress that interrupts an individual’s normal emotional functioning.

While Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) seems to work similarly to hypnosis – in that both bring into consciousness the repressed thoughts and feelings that must be re-experienced in order to release the hold they have on us – EMDR therapy does NOT involve hypnosis or hypnotherapy and clients remain conscious and in control throughout EMDR treatment.

Instead, EMDR therapy uses the same rapid eye movement (REM) that helps us process our daily emotional experiences during sleep to re-experience difficult memories or emotions that are trapped in our nervous systems, so we can “reprocess” them and allow healing and growth to occur.


The simultaneous bilateral stimulation – typically rapid eye movement, but also possibly tapping or auditory tones – allows you to not only experience emotionally charged feelings and memories without having a strong psychological response to them, but to also to “re-experience” and “re-process” them, so you can redefine your past, enjoy the present, and move forward into the future with confidence and optimism.

Specifically, EMDR therapy follows an eight-phase treatment plan …

Phase 1: History and Treatment Planning

The first phase of EMDR therapy involves one or more history-taking and treatment planning sessions.

During these sessions, we’ll discuss your problems, symptoms and goals, including possible targets for your treatment (whether those are disturbing memories of previous traumas or current situations that are causing emotional distress), as well as assess your readiness and develop an overall treatment plan.

Phase 2: Preparation

During the second phase of treatment, I’ll take some time to explain the process in greater depth, as well as help you learn various mindfulness and stress reduction techniques that you can use to cope with any emotional distress you experience, either during or between your EMDR sessions.

It’s important to keep in mind that EMDR treatment seeks to produce rapid, yet effective and lasting change, while also making sure you can maintain your equilibrium during and between your treatment sessions.

The next five phases (phases 3 through 7) involve actual treatment. These phases typically include you identifying:

  • A vivid visual image related to the memory or situation you’ll be targeting,
  • A negative belief you have about yourself,
  • Physical and emotional sensations related to the memory or event, and
  • A positive belief to replace the negative one.

I’ll help you rate both the positive belief as well as the intensity of the negative emotions.

Phase 3: Assessment

During the third phase of EMDR therapy, we’ll identify the specific memories or circumstances that will be targeted, as well as any physical symptoms or emotional sensations that are triggered by concentrating on an event.

Phase 4: Desensitization

Once a specific target has been chosen, I’ll help you focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations we’ve previously discussed, while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation (rapid eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones).

This is the desensitization part of the process, and the type and length of these sets is different for each client.

However, regardless of their number and length, as these sets of bilateral stimulation occur, internal associations will arise and you’ll begin to process the disturbing memories or present circumstances and their associated feelings.

After each set of stimulation, I’ll have you just let your mind “go blank” and notice whatever thought, sensation, or feeling happens spontaneously.

Phase 5: Body Scan

Depending on what you report when you let go and simply notice the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise, I may have you refocus on that traumatic memory, or move on to another.

Basically, this body scan phase is used to assess whether or not you’re able to bring up traumatic memories without experiencing the negative feelings that are no longer relevant, or if reprocessing is necessary.

Phase 6: Installation

Successful EMDR therapy involves transforming the meaning of painful events on an emotional level. For example, as a trauma survivor, you can learn to shift from feeling helplessness to holding the firm belief that, “I survived the experience and am strong.”

Accordingly, this installation phase of treatment is all about strengthening the positive beliefs you’ve chosen to replace the negative ones.

Once you no longer report any distress related to the targeted situation or memory, I’ll ask you to focus on the preferred positive belief that you identified at the beginning of the session, and which you can then use in future sessions.

These repeated sets of focused attention and bilateral stimulation can occur numerous times during the course of a typical 60-90 minute session.

If you become distressed or have difficulty moving forward, I’ll bring you back to the present, help you regulate your emotional responses, and get you back on track.

Over time, the distress you experience around any particular thoughts, images, or memories should start to fade.

Phase 7: Closure

While closure may sound final, it’s actually something we’ll walk through during the end of each session.

We’ll review the session together and I’ll ask you to keep a log in between sessions that you can use to document any related material that arises.

While this log can help us decide what to target during your next session, it can also help serve as an important reminder of when to implement the self-calming activities you learned in phase two.

Phase 8: Re-Evaluation

The final phase of EMDR treatment is actually where we begin at the start of each subsequent session. We’ll review your log, examine the progress you’ve made so far, and determine what targets to work on next.

This all being said, although EMDR therapy follows a specific, multi-step treatment plan, EMDR treatment is different for everyone because we’re all unique individuals and our healing processes are guided from within.

Additionally, while EMDR treatment is often much more efficient and effective than other forms of therapy, you should expect to attend multiple sessions to successfully move through each phase of treatment. Fortunately, many of my clients begin to see significant improvements in as few as 8-10 sessions!

If you have any questions regarding this article, or if I may be of any other assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 510-735-8868 or email me at I look forward to speaking with you and helping you create a life you truly love living!

Beyond Words Psychotherapy – How Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and EMDR Therapy Works and What You Can Expect During Your Treatment Sessions

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