Leone Centre Glossary

Imaginal exposure in EMDR

Imaginal exposure

Imaginal exposure is a key element within eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Imaginal exposure involves confronting distressing memories in a controlled environment to reduce their emotional impact. This process is guided by an experienced therapist and is central to EMDR’s usefulness. Benefits include the reduction of trauma-related anxiety and improved emotional regulation. The structured and supportive nature of this approach is emphasised.

Key focus: core concepts

This section focuses on:

  1. Understanding the role of imaginal exposure in EMDR
  2. Addressing misconceptions about its application and benefits

Core principles

Imaginal exposure in EMDR involves vividly recalling distressing memories while focusing on bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, to facilitate the processing and integration of traumatic experiences.

Therapeutic benefits

This helps reduce the emotional intensity of traumatic memories, alleviating anxiety, and improving overall emotional regulation.

Step-by-step process

During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the client through recalling distressing memories while engaging in bilateral stimulation. This process helps in reprocessing the memory, leading to a reduction in its emotional impact.


What is imaginal exposure?
Imaginal exposure is a method where individuals mentally confront distressing memories in a controlled therapeutic setting to reduce their emotional impact.
How does imaginal exposure help in EMDR?
It helps by facilitating the reprocessing of traumatic memories, reducing their emotional intensity and associated anxiety.
Is imaginal exposure safe?
Yes, when conducted by an experienced therapist, imaginal exposure is a safe and helpful method used in EMDR therapy.


  1. What is EMDR? – EMDR Institute
  2. EMDR for PTSD – American Psychological Association
  3. Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy – NCBI
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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision