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What is Looping in EMDR Therapy?

In EMDR Therapy, there is a common term referred to as "Looping". Looping is when an individual in is the middle of Phase 4 of EMDR therapy, but the processing is blocked. A client is stuck on negative thoughts or beliefs. Despite the use of eye movements or taps (forms of bilateral stimulation), the client seems to be in a rut of negativity. Adaptive Information is not coming into the reprocessing.

Why Does It Happen

Looping can happen for a number of reasons. The most common is usually because the client has a significant trauma history, so there are a lot of thoughts and memories that may be overwhelming the cleint and making it difficult for adaptive information to get through.

Examples of complex trauma include:

  • childhood abuse

  • emotional neglect

  • sexual molestation

  • domestic violence

  • sexual exploitation and/or trafficking

  • cultural dislocation

  • repeated exposure to traumas as a first responder/front line worker

  • etc.

How Do You Work Through It

When a client is looping in the EMDR reprocessing, there are several interventions that can be helpful to promote the integration of adaptive information:

assess for a blocking belief

A client may sometimes struggle with an intense negative cognition, such as "It's my fault". By assessing for a belief that may be getting in the way, we can then determine if the use of a cognitive interweave is appropriate.

cognitive interweaves

intentional strategies used to "jump-start" the reprocessing, such as bringing "online" information that the client already knows but is not integrating into the process session

Use EMDr (restricted reprocessing)

this is when your therapist will restrict the channels of association so that the focus of the reprocessing can be more controlled. THis is in contrast to EMDR (big R), in which the channels of association are allowed to flow more freely.

assess for feeder memories

sometimes there will be another memory that has not come into the processing, but that is contributing to the maladaptively stored information. Uncovered this feeder memory can help get things moving again.

There are several other ways to help get things moving if EMDR reprocessing seems blocked. Working with an EMDRIA Approved Consultant can help to conceptualize specific cases and figure out what may be the best intervention for the client. No two individuals are alike, so what works for one person, may not work for the other!


About the Author

Dana Carretta-Stein is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and founder of Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling, PLLC, and Carretta Consulting in Scarsdale, NY.  She specializes in clinical psychotherapy to treat children, adolescents and adults with anxiety, behavior and trauma difficulties. She is a certified EMDR therapist and EMDRIA Approved Consultant. Dana is also a business marketing coach for wellness practitioners who are looking to build and grow their private practice. For more information, visit


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