Myths and Misconceptions of EMDR Therapy
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Dr. Francine Shapiro developed eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy 35 years ago to treat trauma. Since then, EMDR has become a popular and effective form of treatment for trauma and various mental health disorders. However, EMDR is surrounded by myths, misconceptions and confusion. Learning about the facts of EMDR can help to make an informed decision about beginning EMDR treatment.
What Is EMDR Therapy?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is a treatment for trauma and certain mental health disorders. It is based on the adaptive information processing (AIP) model, which suggests that when some people have an upsetting life experience like trauma, their brain does not correctly process the event. These unprocessed memories lead to distressing thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.
EMDR treatment uses a specific protocol to help someone reprocess the initial memory of the distressing event. With this protocol, a trained therapist uses sensory stimulation (bilateral eye movements, taps or tones) to reconnect a person’s memory of the trauma to more adaptive responses. EMDR can help to change how someone responds to trauma and upsetting triggers or events that may occur in the future.
Benefits of EMDR
EMDR provides many benefits, including:
- It is recommended for children, teenagers and adults.
- It is a natural healing process for the brain.
- People can experience positive results more quickly than with other forms of treatment.
- There is minimal homework.
- Recipients do not have to relive the trauma during the sessions.
Is EMDR Therapy Dangerous?
Research has demonstrated EMDR to be a safe and effective treatment modality for trauma and certain mental health disorders. While research and practice have not found dangers with EMDR, some controversy does exist regarding EMDR.
Researchers are still unclear about exactly how EMDR works. It has been proven effective, but they are still learning about what makes it effective. Researchers want to learn more about the neuroscience behind EMDR and what happens in the brain during the treatment.
Some researchers are concerned because of conflicting information about EMDR. Some research supports the back-and-forth movements of EMDR (bilateral stimulation) as a necessary part of the protocol, but other research shows that this movement is not necessary. Ultimately, more scientific research is needed to learn about the processes that occur with EMDR.
Can EMDR Make Things Worse?
With EMDR, the brain works to reprocess negative thoughts, emotions and memories. As part of this process, it is common to experience increased negative thoughts and feelings after the session. It may even feel overwhelming when this happens. Sometimes, people might feel like they can’t control their memories, thoughts or feelings. It is important to discuss any reaction with the therapist, as they can help monitor and teach coping skills as part of EMDR treatment.
EMDR Myths and Misconceptions
EMDR has become a very popular and highly discussed treatment modality. However, its popularity has also led to some common misunderstandings about it.
MYTH: EMDR Is Hypnosis
EMDR differs from hypnosis. During hypnosis and EMDR, people go into a different type of learning state to bring about change, but the experiences are very different. During EMDR, people do not go into a hypnotic trance state. They need to remain focused and cognitively alert as part of the protocol. With hypnosis, people need to go into a very relaxed state of consciousness to allow themselves to be guided toward a specific goal.
MYTH: EMDR Is New
Dr. Francine Shapiro first developed the concept of EMDR in 1987. She used theory from the adaptive information processing (AIP) model to create EMDR protocols for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
MYTH: EMDR Is Not Backed by Research
An extensive amount of research has shown EMDR therapy to be an effective and valid form of treatment. Dr. Shapiro published the first research trial in 1989, and research has continued over the years. EMDR is also recommended by various organizations to treat trauma, including:
- The World Health Organization
- American Psychiatric Association
- U.S. Department of Defense
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
MYTH: EMDR Can Create False Memories
Research has demonstrated that EMDR does not create false memories. Research has also shown that EMDR does not lead to inaccurate memories or more vivid recall of the original event.
MYTH: EMDR Is Only Used for PTSD
EMDR was first researched and used to treat PTSD, and this condition remains the most common reason for using EMDR. As research and practice of EMDR have progressed, providers have been using EMDR to treat other issues. These include:
- Disordered eating
- Gender dysphoria
- Certain personality disorders
- Chronic pain
MYTH: EMDR Is a “Quick Fix”
EMDR does not offer a quick fix for distress, trauma, negative thoughts or sensations. It takes time for people to develop a rapport with their therapist, participate in the protocol and find some relief. However, EMDR is often more effective in a shorter amount of time than other methods of treatment, such as CBT, psychodynamic therapy or exposure therapies. While the length of treatment can vary, it is common to have treatment sessions one to two times per week for a period of six to 12 sessions.
While some confusion does exist about how it works, research supports that EMDR is an effective and safe therapy to treat trauma and mental health issues. However, not all therapists can provide EMDR therapy. A therapist must undergo specific training and supervision to provide this form of treatment.
When looking to begin EMDR therapy, it is important to make sure that the provider:
- Is a licensed mental health professional
- Has undergone training and supervision in EMDR
- May possibly also have a certification in EMDR
People must remain open and communicate with their therapists throughout the entire process of treatment. This way, the therapist can address any concerns, reactions or effects that occur during EMDR therapy.
If you or someone you know is struggling with trauma, depression, another mental health disorder or addiction, the Nobu app can help. This free-to-use app offers a variety of mental health support services, including mindfulness exercises, goal tracking, journaling prompts and more. For an additional fee, you can even connect to a licensed mental health professional for treatment. Download the Nobu app today, available for free on the Apple Store and Google Play Store.
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- American Psychological Association. “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.” July 2017. Accessed August 3, 2022.
- Castelnuovo, G., et al. “Present and Future of EMDR in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy.” Frontiers in Psychology, September 27, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2022.
- Cleveland Clinic. “EMDR Therapy.” March 29, 2022. Accessed August 1, 2022.
- Gauhar, Y.W.M. “The Efficacy of EMDR in the Treatment of Depression.” Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2016. Accessed August 2, 2022.
- Valiente-Gomez, A., et al. “EMDR Beyond PTSD: A Systematic Literature Review.” Frontiers in Psychology, September 26, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2022.
- Hartford, P. “The Integrative Use of EMDR and Clinical Hypnosis in the Treatment of Adults Abused as Children.” Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, May 2010. Accessed August 3, 2022.
- Oren, E., Solomon, R. “EMDR Therapy: An Overview Of Its Development and Mechanisms Of Action.” European Review of Applied Psychology, October 2012. Accessed August 2, 2022.
- Schie, K., Leer, A. “Lateral Eye Movements Do Not Increase False-Memory Rates: A Failed Direct-Replication Study.” Clinical Psychological Science, July 19, 2019. Accessed August 3, 2022.
- Shapiro, J. “The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: Addressing the Psychological and Physical Symptoms Stemming from Adverse Life Experiences.” The Permanente Journal, 2014. Accessed August 2, 2022.
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD.” March 23, 2022. Accessed August 3, 2022.