Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, commonly referred to as EDMR, was founded by Francine Shapiro to help individuals struggling with traumatic memories. Since its inception, EMDR has successfully helped people living with a variety of mental health issues.

For many, seeking help for a mental health problem can be overwhelming. Those who experience significant impairment from mental health problems often worry about the time it takes to see the benefits of counseling. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy can be an effective tool for some clients to improve their quality of life over time.

EMDR is designed to help counselors access and process traumatic memories or events so they can work with their Clients to reach a new resolution (EMDR, n.d.). It can help reduce negative symptoms, including psychological agitation and anxiety, and can help reframe core beliefs (EMDR, n.d.). Overall, it has a positive impact on the Client’s quality of life. Keep reading to learn 10 EMDR Therapy Exercises and Activities you can do with your clients.

View all of our EMDR Worksheets

The EMDR 8-step approach

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy consists of an eight-phase approach. EMDR Institute, Inc. The eight stages are described by:

Step 1: Data collection

First, it is important to focus on gathering information, which should include the customer’s history and relevant experiences. At this point, the client’s treatment plan will be developed at this stage.

Step 2: Prepare to Cope with Emotional Stress

The Clinician then begins to focus on preparing the client to cope with the emotional distress that will be experienced in the later stages.

Steps 3 – 6: Identify and Process Painful Events

3-6. The target memory or event is identified and processed using EDMR procedures. In this phase, the client will work to identify the vivid image of the event, any negative beliefs they have about themselves, and identify associated emotions and bodily sensations. Clients are also asked to identify their positive self-esteem. The clinician will guide and support the client through these stages.

Step 7: Introductory Practices

The client is asked to record his experience in a written journal for one week. This journal is designed to show what the client has learned in the session, including the use of self-soothing activities.

Step 8: Review the experience

In the final step, the Client’s experience with EMDR therapy is explored. This may include reviewing what they have achieved and setting future goals.

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit From EMDR Training

Studies have found that EDMR can effectively reduce symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, and some phobias (Cahill, SP, Carrigan, MH, & Frueh, BC, 1999).

EMDR Institute, Inc. reported that 84-90% of individuals who had experienced a single traumatic event found that they were no longer struggling with PTSD symptoms after three 1.5-hour EMDR sessions. In addition, promising results were found for individuals with multiple traumas and combat veterans with 12 EMDR sessions (EMDR,nd). These results are encouraging for Clients who may be hesitant or concerned about the length of time it takes to see the positive effects of EMDR Therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy is supported by the American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, and the US Department of Defense.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Activities

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing exercises can be used to enhance the client’s experience in session. EMDR exercises can reinforce the information discussed in a session and help Clients use the skills they learn in their sessions. A sample list of EMDR activities that can be used during EMDR sessions:

  1. Teaching your client about the Subjective Unit of Distress, or SUD, can help clients assess the amount of distress they are experiencing related to difficult memories. Customers a SUD worksheet, as available on TherapyByPro, can help them track their level of difficulty over time. Clients can use this worksheet to track their out-of-session experience and use it as a tool to reflect on their progress. Tracking their SUD can also give them an opportunity to reflect on their progress in therapy.
  2. Introduce your client to the Butterfly Hug for self-soothing. Take time to demonstrate this skill and answer their questions. Talk your client through the steps of the Butterfly Hug and follow up by asking how they feel after practicing the skill. Encourage your client to use this self-soothing skill outside of the session and monitor their ability to do so.
  3. The Challenging Perceptions Worksheet TherapyByPro can help clients develop positive cognitions to replace negative ones. Experiencing negative cognitions is a common experience after experiencing a difficult or negative event. Clients can use the worksheet to track negative thoughts they can challenge and replace outside of treatment sessions, which can help them see their progress.
  4. Familiarize your client with reasoning skills. Placement skills can be used to keep our minds in the present moment rather than clinging to the past or the future. You can discuss the use of the five senses in grounding skills and encourage them to practice different grounding skills that they can use outside of sessions in times of difficulty.
  5. Introduce your customer to the Window of Tolerance concept. Understanding the physical symptoms associated with hyperarousal, optimal arousal, and hypoarousal can help your client recognize whether they are hyperarousal or hypoarousal so they can use skills to work toward feeling calm and safe in an optimal arousal state. TherapyByPro offers Tolerance Window Worksheet can be used to track their experiences outside of therapy sessions.
  6. Introduce your client to the practice of deep breathing. Explain to them the process of breathing through their nose and expanding their diaphragm. Some may benefit from visualizing a demonstration of the Clinician inhaling through the nose, belly, and mouth. Encourage your client to take several deep breaths in a row and explore how they feel after this exercise compared to before. Encourage your client to use deep breathing as a self-soothing skill.
  7. Another relaxation technique that clients can benefit from is using a Safe Place or Quiet Place. This can include thinking of a place that makes them feel calm and safe, using their feelings and sensations in their safe place when they think about that place. They can then identify a word that represents their safe place for them so that when they think of that word, they can think of positive associations with their safe place. TherapyByPro EDMR Safe Place Worksheet can be completed in a session and saved by the client to remind them of their safe place.
  8. A useful EMDR exercise for sessions would be to practice eye movements that the client would use during EMDR Therapy sessions. This can help your client feel confident in their ability to participate in their therapy sessions and allow the Clinician to address any concerns the client may have.
  9. Clients who have difficulty managing distressing symptoms may benefit from using one EMDR Container Worksheet. A container exercise can help clients visualize a powerful container that can hold their distressed feelings. The container should allow the client to remove one concern at a time, and they should be able to control how many concerns they can remove at a time. During this exercise, clients are asked to describe the container and explore how they would feel if they could put some of their worries into the container. TherapyByPro offers an EMDR Container Worksheet that can serve as a template for in-session EMDR activity.
  10. Clients are likely to experience difficulty out of session. Moment EMDR TICES worksheet can help clients track the triggers, images, cognitions, emotions, and feelings they experience when they experience anxiety. Encourage your client to see the trigger and draw a picture that they can record on their worksheet and bring to the session. Once clients have completed a worksheet, they can put it away in a safe place until the next session where they can review the worksheet.

Final Thoughts on EMDR Therapy Exercises and Activities for Your Clients

Thanks for reading this resource about EMDR Therapy Exercises and Activities you can do with your clients. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is an excellent tool for Clinicians working with clients struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues. Research has supported the validity of EDMR’s ability to help diverse populations significantly affected by mental health problems. EDMR can provide relief for clients more quickly than other forms of psychotherapy, including talk therapy.

Clinicians working with clients struggling with traumatic memories may benefit from learning more about the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy. This can be done through special training, courses or continuing education opportunities. If you want to expand your knowledge of EMDR, your supervisor can be a valuable resource.

TherapyByPro is a program online mental health directory connecting mental health professionals with clients in need. If you are a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your experience listing here. We have templates for assessments, practice forms, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use to facilitate their practice. Look at all of us mental health worksheets here.


  • Cahill, SP, Carrigan, MH, & Frueh, BC (1999). Does EMDR work? If so, why?: a critical review of the controlled outcome and deconstruction of the study. Journal of anxiety Disorders, 13(1-2), 5-33. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0887-6185(98)00039-5
  • EMDR Institute, Inc. (n.d.). What is EMDR? EMDR. Retrieved March 2, 2023 https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/

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