EMDR Consultant's Corner

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The Momentum of EMDR

By: Rachel Grimes, LCSW-S, DBH-C

In order to conduct Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, you need to have movement, momentum, and magic. I’m just kidding about needing magic, though multiple patients have told me that EMDR feels like magic! Movement and momentum are necessary components of this modality, however.

Francine Shapiro, founder of EMDR, realized that the movement of her eyes, helped lessen the distress of her thoughts, while walking in the park one day in 1987. This may seem obvious, but not only was Shapiro moving her eyes, she was also moving her legs. Her entire body was moving while she was thinking about distressing thoughts, and her thoughts calmed down. The back and forth body motions are called bi-lateral stimulations, and create a calming effect on the brain and neurological system. Bi-lateral movement activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and enhances communications between the left and right sides of the brain (Braunsdorf, 2023). Bi-lateral movements in EMDR can be more than just tapping or moving your eyes back and forth. One of my favorites is rocking in a rocking chair!

Momentum is defined in physics, as the quantity of motion of a moving body (see how it is all connected in some way?). Vanstone (2022), defines momentum as “how hard it is to stop a moving object”. In EMDR, we want to keep the phases moving in pace with the patient. How does a patient know what their EMDR momentum should be? The patient will know the speed that they can move, and the EMDR therapist will know the directions on how to get there.

While staying out of the way, the therapist can drive the momentum by having a potential EMDR intervention in mind AT ALL TIMES. A new patient is entering the clinical therapy office? The EMDR therapist has their EMDR elevator speech at the tip of their tongue, and steers the conversation to phase 1, history taking. Not sure what to do with a newer patient while building rapport? Get to know the patient by having them build a sand tray of their support system. Then, introduce phase 2, preparation or resource building. Install their support system by having the patient slowly tap the sand tray. Or ask the patient “What is the most positive thing you can say about yourself right now?” Help the patient identify when they demonstrated this quality, what feelings emerge when thinking of this memory, and where they feel it in their body. Install the positive statement via bi-lateral stimulation, and check the validity of the cognition using the 1 to 7 scaling technique. This is a phase 2 activity that warms their brain up for phase 3, assessment.

Think about this:

How do middle school students survive the dreaded middle school dance? They are moving to the music, fast or slow!

EMDR has 8 phases of treatment, however, the phases are not always conducted in a linear fashion. Patients often vacillate between phases 1 and 2 for multiple sessions. The EMDR therapist monitors the patient’s ability to tolerate phase 1, while helping them build up their brain strength (phase 2), for tackling phase 4, desensitization.

“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.”—Michael Korda

Michael Korda (2024), inspirational speaker and author, states that greater goals are essential to keep momentum moving. Nine point nine times out of ten, the patient’s goal is to reduce their trauma symptoms. The EMDR therapist’s goal is to help the patient do so by leading them through the phases of EMDR. Both are lofty goals that can be achieved through the momentum of EMDR.


Braunsdorf, A. (2023, August 11). Bi-lateral stimulation: What it is and how to use it to reduce anxiety. Balance.


Korda, M. (2024). Biography. Book Reporter.


Shapiro, F. (2017). Eye movement desensitization and

Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Guilford Press.

Vanstone, E. (2022, January 18). What is momentum? Science

Sparks. https://www.science-sparks.com/what-is-momentum/