Leone Centre Glossary

Target Memory in EMDR

Target Memory

In the context of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), the term ‘target memory’ refers to specific memories that are identified and processed during therapy sessions. These memories often relate to past experiences that contribute to current psychological distress.

Common Concerns

Identifying and Processing Memories

Individuals undergoing EMDR therapy often face the challenge of identifying which memories need to be addressed to alleviate their distress. Understanding what ‘target memory’ means is vital in this therapeutic context.

What is Target Memory?

In EMDR therapy, a target memory is a specific past event that is identified as the focus for therapy. These memories are usually linked to trauma or distressing experiences. The process involves recalling these memories while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, to reprocess and reduce the impact of the memory on the individual’s current mental health.

Defining Target Memory

Target memory in EMDR is identified based on its relevance to the individual’s current distress. Therapists work with clients to pinpoint these memories through detailed history taking and assessment.

Benefits of Identifying Target Memories

Identifying and processing target memories can lead to significant reductions in distress. By reprocessing these memories, individuals can change the way they react to and perceive past traumatic events.

The EMDR Process

During EMDR sessions, the therapist guides the client to recall the target memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation. This helps in desensitising the emotional response and reprocessing the memory into a more adaptive resolution.

Common Questions

How does a therapist identify target memories?
A therapist uses detailed history-taking and assessment methods to identify which memories are contributing to the client’s current distress.
What types of memories are usually targeted in EMDR?
Memories targeted in EMDR are often linked to traumatic or distressing experiences that have a lasting impact on the individual’s mental health.
Can all distressing memories be processed using EMDR?
While many distressing memories can be processed using EMDR, the therapy is most helpful with memories that are particularly impactful on the individual’s current mental state.


  1. Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures. The Guilford Press.
  2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). (2018). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng116
  3. Leeds, A. M. (2016). A Guide to the Standard EMDR Therapy Protocols for Clinicians, Supervisors, and Consultants. Springer Publishing Company.
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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision