become an emdr therapist

3 Steps to Becoming an EMDR Therapist

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy designed to ease physiological distress that results from traumatic experiences. EMDR therapists specialize in administering EMDR treatments to patients suffering from mental anguish and facilitate healing. If you are a licensed mental health clinician and are considering becoming an EMDR therapist, you may wonder what you need to do to get certified.

Licensed mental health clinicians interested in becoming an EMDR therapist should follow these three steps:

  1. Complete EMDR coursework.
  2. Conduct 50 clinical sessions using EMDR.
  3. Engage in 20 hours of EMDR consultation with an approved EMDR consultant.

These are the three basic steps that need to be completed to become a licensed EMDR therapist. To better understand what an EMDR therapist does and background information on what exactly you need to do to become an EMDR therapist, keep reading.

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What is an EMDR Therapist?

An EMDR therapist is a licensed mental health clinician who has completed EMDR coursework, engaged in EMDR case consultations, has experience conducting EMDR sessions, and received certification to administer EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) treatment.

Specifically, an EMDR therapist uses EMDR therapy to help patients become desensitized to traumatic or post-traumatic experiences that trigger psychological distress.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is a unique and non-traditional treatment that focuses on changing the memory associated with the unresolved trauma rather than altering the patient’s thoughts and emotions.

EMDR therapy is effective in healing PTSD-type symptoms and helps patients learn how to regain control of their lives, reducing anxiety, depression, anger, fear, nightmares, and constant worry.

EMDR therapists are specially trained in EMDR therapy and guide patients through the process. From discovering what memories trigger trauma to providing a safe place and affect management to work through emotional distress, EMDR therapists are there every step of the way to help individuals who have PTSD begin to feel relief, heal, and experience a calmer and more centered life. 

Hundreds of case studies support EMDR as an “empirically validated treatment of trauma and other adverse life experiences.” As a therapy, EMDR has made great strides in helping individuals regain control over their lives.

How Does EMDR Work?

Here’s a more detailed explanation of how the EMDR treatment works:

  • Past disturbing events cause distress because the memory of the event was not properly processed or stored. Each time the memory is recalled, the individual relives the trauma.
  • EMDR therapy focuses on the memory and how the memory is stored, rather than altering how the individual feels and remembers the experience.
  • When the client focuses on both the memory and the bilateral rhythmic eye stimulation, the memory is re-processed and stored with less trauma and emotion.

EMDR therapy can treat depression, anxiety, panic, and mental trauma, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) issues.  Also included in PTSD responses are nightmares, flashbacks, startle responses, constant worry, and avoidance issues.

What is the EMDR Therapy Process Like?

A typical EMDR session unfolds like this:

  1. The EMDR therapist has the patient focus on a traumatic memory. This information will be discussed in Phase 1 (of 8 phases of EMDR Therapy overall: more on this below).
  2. The EMDR therapist directs your eye movements bilaterally (from side to side) with finger signals or other sensory aids while you reflect on “trigger memories.”
  3. The combination of eye movements distracts the patient, allowing them to process the difficult memories without a traumatic response.
  4. The EMDR therapist continues these two steps until the patient is desensitized to the memory.
  5. After each set, there is an evaluation, and the process is repeated until the memory is less traumatic. Once the EMDR therapist determines the memory no longer triggers a strong emotional response, they introduce the positive beliefs to replace the negative ones using the same process.

Essentially, in EMDR, you re-process past traumatic events that dominate your current frame of mind; new positive memories are instilled to help you move forward with a more positive mindset.

EMDR treatments generally require less treatment time than traditional talk therapies.

However, the typical EMDR session lasts about 90 minutes, and the length of treatment depends on these factors:

  • The age of the patient when the traumatic event occurred.
  • The complexity of the event.
  • The nature of the event and the length of time that it happened.

What Does an EMDR Therapist Do?

EMDR therapists use structured therapy to treat patients in an eight-phase approach. The therapist follows this plan:

Phase 1History and Treatment PlanningThis is a discovery phase where the therapist and patient identify traumatic memories or triggers and a more positive belief the patient would like to adapt. Goals of the treatment and a treatment plan are formulated.
Phase 2Preparing the ParticipantThe therapist explains how EMDR works, practices the procedure, and discusses contingency plans for affect management.
Phase 3 Assessment of the MemoryMemory activation for baseline measurement of changes in emotion and cognition. This assessment is needed for the therapist to be able to measure the success of EMDR therapy.
Phase 4TreatmentOnce a therapist and their patient completed the first three phases, treatment begins. The therapist arranges sessions where they lead patients through a sequence of steps.
Phase 5
Phase 6
Phase 7
Phase 8Evaluating the ResultsDetermining whether there is an improvement or a need to continue with current goals.

Now that we know what an EMDR therapist is and what they do, let’s look at how you become one.

How Do I Become an EMDR Therapist?

If you are considering specializing in EMDR therapy, EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) is an excellent resource to help guide you through the process of becoming EMDR Certified. EMDRIA “sets the standards and grants approval to individuals or organizations to provide EMDR Training.”

To enroll in EMDRIA endorsed EMDR courses, you’ll need to meet the following criteria:

  • Hold an advanced degree from an accredited university or college in their mental health field.
  • Be fully licensed for independent practice.
  • Have two years’ experience (minimum) in their mental health field.

Once you have met the basic requirements, and you’ve found an EMDRIA-approved training program, have applied, and been accepted, there are three steps to complete the EMDR certification process:

Training Program

The training program for EMDR certification is a combination of EMDRIA-approved coursework and supervised practicum. This training provides clinicians with the skills and knowledge to perform EMDR sessions. When the training is completed, clinicians should understand the current explanatory model, case formulation, and treatment planning.

Complete 20 Hours of an EMDR Consultation with a Certified EMDR Consultant

Ten of these hours should be one-on-one EMDR focused consultation, and the other ten may occur in a small group consultation of eight or fewer participants. Only consultation hours completed after taking the EMDR training online can be considered. You must provide detailed documentation of your consultation hours from approved consultants.

Conduct 50 Sessions of EMDR with 25 Patients

You will need to have 50 sessions of EMDR therapy online with 25 clients completed to be considered for certification. These sessions need to be documented and notarized by a certified public notary.

The process to become EMDR certified can take anywhere from six months to two years. There are accredited EMDR training centers that offer both in-person and online training. Taking training that is EMDRIA-approved ensures that you are getting the best and latest EMDR information; however, there are training centers where you can get certified that are not EMDRIA approved. 

Apply for Certification

Once you have completed these three major steps, getting certified is a matter of applying for certification and providing the requisite paperwork. You’ll need to provide the following documents:

  • A copy of your certification of completion from an EMDRIA certified training course
  • A copy of your license to practice
  • A notarized statement declaring you have been practicing for two years in your field and have completed 50 hours of EMDR therapy sessions with 25 patients
  • Show documentation from certified EMDR consultants that you completed 20 hours of consultation and specify how much was private and how much took place in a small group
  • Provide a letter(s) of recommendation from EMDRIA Approved Consultant(s) for EMDR certification
  • Provide two letters of recommendation from colleagues or peers verifying your use of EMDR with clients
  • Agree to uphold the EMDRIA policies

Once you’ve provided all the required forms, documents, and letters and submitted them to EMDRIA, it can take up to four weeks to get a response about your certification. The process can take longer if the application is incomplete.

How Much Do EMDR Therapists Make?

On the low-end, EMDR therapists earn $29,000, and on the high-end, $150,000. EMDR Therapists, on average, make about $41.00/hour or $84,963/year.

Because the pay for EMDR therapists varies greatly, the possibility for career advancement based on skill, experience, and location is likely.

Becoming an EMDR therapist requires a Master’s Degree in psychology, social work, or counseling, meaning education plays less of a role in determining salaries. What has a bigger effect is location. There is data confirming the cities that pay the most for EMDR therapists; if you are flexible with where you want to live, you may want to consider relocating: seven cities in California are among the top ten for the highest EMDR income.

Like many careers now, work from home is also an option for EMDR therapy. The hourly pay for remote EMDR therapists is $30.13, and the annual income is $62,671.

Can Occupational Therapists Do EMDR?

Occupational therapists can do EMDR therapy as long as they are certified to do so.

Occupational therapists work with injured, ill, and disabled individuals and help them function normally with daily tasks and work routines. Therapists that specialize in occupational therapy consider how and what patients need to be fully functioning, adaptive, and self-sufficient in their daily lives.

A requirement to become an occupational therapist is a Master’s degree in occupational therapy. However, to pursue becoming an EMDR therapist, you need a Master’s degree in psychology, social work, or counseling.

So, if you’re an occupational therapist and want to do EMDR therapy, you’ll need to complete a Master’s degree program in psychology, social work, or counseling before being able to start the certification process to become an EMDR therapist.


In summary, outlined are the three steps it takes to become an EMDR therapist: a training program, consultations with an approved EMDR consultant, and 50 hours of clinical EMDR experience. Along with applying for your certification and fulfilling the basic requirements, these steps are how you become certified to practice EMDR therapy.