Two fingers holding a piece of gold, black background

How to Dig for Gold: The Reevaluation Phase  

Shannon Schiefer, MA, LPC, Center Faculty and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant

Is it hard for you and your client to recognize the movement towards growth and healing while dredging through the multiple layers of your client’s trauma?  

Do your clients struggle to continue with the work once reprocessing begins?   


As we know, all 8 phases of EMDR therapy are essential in reprocessing, integrating, and updating adaptive information into a newly encoded memory network. The Reevaluation phase often does not get the recognition it deserves. Everyone knows Phase 4, Desensitization, as the “lead singer” of the phases. Reevaluation is what I like to call “the backup singer,” which harmonizes the melody adding depth and fullness to the musical score.   


Reevaluation is one of my favorite phases. Phase 8 is where we check the client's progress in between sessions. We explore the client’s relationship to the targeted memory, gauging what remains of the trauma and its impact. This phase is dynamic and evolutionary. In addition to checking the memory we explore how their daily lived experience is changing. “What are you noticing that is different since our last session,” we ask. We want to ensure that the client is aware of both the micro and macro changes that are happening so they can fully embrace and embody them.   


We’re also continuously reassessing and updating our treatment plan based on how our clients are responding. Reevaluation time allows for conversations around how they’re growing and changing as well as what’s next. As clinicians, we observe client's patterned responses throughout reprocessing.  Often what happens in reprocessing reflects our client's real-world experiences. Making these patterns explicit, we negotiate with our clients’ alternative ways to relate to what is happening in the present moment. We might ask a client who tends to intellectualize during reprocessing, if we can help them begin to touch into the feelings they are experiencing in real time instead of using their intelligence to avoid what is happening inside of them. 


A common misconception shared in EMDR consultation about Phase 8 is, “We’re not there yet. We are still working on processing trauma.” Reevaluation is not the final outcome. The value of this phase is about the process, the incremental changes, ‘the glimmers’ we spot along the trail of healing that we want to strengthen and embody. 


Our clients typically come in with the problem du jour. Past experiences in talk therapy may have contributed to a client’s tendency to focus on a hot topic or the problem to be fixed ‘this week.’ The client’s trauma history can compel both therapist and client to focus on what is wrong instead of what is getting better.  Many clients struggle to notice any positive shifts in their experience because their brain is wired to scan for familiar patterns of negative thinking, constantly preparing for something bad to happen. In addition, traumatic attachment histories may have resulted in childhood successes and achievements going unnoticed or even criticized.   


Our job, in the Reevaluation phase, is to listen attentively and patiently, waiting to uncover the nugget of gold among the layers of dirt.  


Sometimes we find only gold dust, but with more digging and exploration, we discover a hefty gold nugget. During Reevaluation, we witness and celebrate our clients, creating a new experience in the relationship with us and an evolving relationship towards their own difficulties. 


It may be hard for them to see the glimmers dancing through the dirt. Our client may not be able to bring in the gold when we ask about their successes throughout the week, at least initially. We might have to help them sift through the dirt.   


Finding Gold: A Case Example  

During Reevaluation, my client, a successful, intelligent woman who was also crippled by perfectionism, shame, and anxiety, shared a relatively familiar story about her struggles with work as a medical provider. She quickly recounted details of her incompetency. She proceeded to provide evidence, sharing that she did not understand a question she was asked in a staff meeting. (This is a client with a history of a freeze response during confusion and uncertainty). She continued to explain how she spoke up and asked for clarification from her colleague and then continued with self-critical messages. I interrupted:  


Therapist: “Whoa, can we slow down a second.…. You shared you didn’t understand something…in a group…. of your colleagues…what happened next?”  

Client: “The presenter was nice about it and said she understood my confusion.”  

Therapist: “And then what happened…”  

Client: “Others expressed their confusion as well.”  

Therapist: “What made you raise your hand because that isn’t typical for you, correct?”   

Client: “I guess not. I raised my hand because I didn’t understand the question.”  

Therapist: (with boisterous validation) “Well, that makes sense!” (normalizing her confusion)   

Client: (spine visibly grows taller, shoulders adjusted and with a slight smile) “I guess I did do that. I didn’t notice that.”  

Therapist: “What does that make you feel about yourself looking back at it now?”  

Client: “That it’s okay to ask for help and to not have all the answers.”   


She then shared how she wants to model this for future medical providers because she is aware of the impact and consequences of ‘being perfect’.   


I didn’t try to make a negative situation into something positive. I brought a looking glass for my client to discover the glimmer of light reflecting off the gold. I brought attention to what was different.   


Difficulties in Reevaluation   

Expect your clients to focus on the problem when you ask for stories of success, especially in the beginning of your work together.   

Clients will minimize their progress and successes. They will talk right through a positive experience.   


Updates will focus on others, not themselves. They have learned to center their attention on others rather than their own experiences.   


Don’t rely only on what they are telling you but listen for what they are not telling you.  


Ways we can help dig for gold  

Slow down and get curious. Here are some ideas to help dig for that gold:  

“I am wondering does that feel different for you to _________?”  

“What happened next?”  

“What was that like when you ________?”  

“What helped you move through that quicker than usual?”  

“Can you think of a moment, even if brief, when you didn’t have this problem this past week?”  

“How did you handle that difficult moment? What do you like about how you handled that?”  

“How did it not get worse than it did?”  


Spot the difference  

An avoidant client reports they have felt more sadness this past week. They have learned from past experiences to see their feelings as the problem.   


What is that like for you to be able to notice and be clearer about what you're feeling?”  


Track moment-to-moment shifts  

“I noticed your energy lightened as you described_________. What happened there?”  

“Ah! A deep breath! What’s happening for you as you share this now?”  


Make the small BIG  

“Yes! That’s great!”  

“I’m so glad you recognize that about yourself!”  

“That’s good to know what you are not okay with!”  


Direct the focus and stay out of the story  

Client reports feeling anxious  

“I know that’s a familiar feeling for you. What’s one thing you did to take care of yourself after that difficult situation?”  


Client reports she felt uncomfortable at a social gathering. “I was nervous, and my mind couldn’t stay still.”  

“Good for you for noticing and being mindful of your experience. How were you able to slow down and notice your experience more?”  

“You really are becoming more aware of your experience in real time. That’s wonderful!”  


Expresses frustration about a work project.  

“Even though it was a frustrating experience, I’m noticing you are giving yourself a little room to feel your disappointment. That seems really important.”  


Share your experience and see what happens  

Client shares how they tried something but “it didn’t work”.  

“I appreciate your bravery. You tried something new that was really hard for you. What’s that like to consider that you were brave despite things not turning out the way you hoped?”  


Stay “I” focused in the “now”  

Client expresses feeling hurt because their partner is “too busy” and continues to ignore them.  

“How is it for you now to bring attention to your hurt?”  

“What are you aware of that you need when you are hurting?”  

 “Someone to notice”  

“Can you give attention to the part of you hurting now?”  


A Relational Approach to Reevaluation  

Creating mini experiments during Reevaluation can bring successes present in the moment. Telling the same story can be a habit for our clients. Opportunities for a client to elicit a present moment experience with you, as their EMDR therapist, can interrupt this habit and begin laying the foundation for new paths to emerge. Similar to shame spirals, where one critical thought leads you down a rabbit hole of parallel thoughts, healing spirals emerge.   


Once our clients spot gold, their brain constructs connections and patterns to automatically seek more gold.   


When we have that golden moment, we ask our clients, “How does that make you feel about yourself as a person?” At The Center for Excellence in EMDR Therapy, we teach our EMDR therapy trainees to take the time to mine for the gold by running the movie of their positive moment or their success using one or more sets of slower, continuous bilateral stimulation (BLS) to strengthen the positive memory/moment and then pairing it with a spontaneous positive belief about themselves.  Then we share our delight about their triumph, making it a shared experience, which also creates a new memory.  It is important for us, as therapists, to nurture these moments of growth and change, motivating our clients to stay the course. 


Please reach out to The Center for Excellence in EMDR Therapy and share how this blog has helped you work differently in Reevaluation with your clients. We would love to hear from you!