EMDR Therapy: Separating Fact from Fiction
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
In my 13 years or so of being an EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) clinician,
I have often found myself having to debunk myths about EMDR or reframe
and educate therapists and consumers about what EMDR is and isn’t.
Unfortunately, many perceptions and beliefs about what EMDR is and isn’t
have come from well-meaning, referring therapists who may not be
trained in EMDR but value it as a therapeutic modality.
With this in mind, let’s debunk some “myths” about EMDR.
Myth No. 1: EMDR is a new therapy.
Not true. In fact, in 2014 EMDR celebrates its 25th anniversary. We have come a long way since 1987, when Dr. Francine Shapiro was
walking in a park and realized that her eyes moved back and forth when
she was having a disturbing thought and that in doing so, it became less
distressing. The first research studies began not long after that in
1989, whereby it became clear EMDR (then called EMD) was an
up-and-coming treatment for posttraumatic stress.
Myth No. 2: EMDR is not research-based.
Of all EMDR myths, this is probably the biggest one and the most
often stated. Since the first studies in 1989, EMDR has become one of
the most well-researched therapeutic modalities and, in fact, has been
identified as a treatment of choice for trauma. In 2013, the World
Health Organization recommended EMDR as a treatment for PTSD. In 2004,
the American Psychiatric Association identified EMDR as effective trauma
treatment. In 2004 and 2010, the Veterans Administration recommended
EMDR. EMDR has also been included in the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration national registry of evidence-based
programs and practices. Other local and international organizations have
identified EMDR as a research-based and effective treatment for trauma.
EMDR studies such as the groundbreaking research by leading trauma
expert Bessel A. van der Kolk and colleagues studying EMDR vs.
psychopharmacology in the treatment of PTSD also support EMDR an
effective trauma treatment. If you are a therapist or consumer who is
interested in EMDR or considering treatment for PTSD, please read this.
Myth No. 3: EMDR is just “wagging your fingers back and forth in front of a client.”
Nope. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have written about the eight phases of EMDR in
previous GoodTherapy.org articles, so it is not necessary to go into
great detail about them. Just know that it is imperative that people
researching EMDR or considering an EMDR therapist know that there are
eight distinct phases, and that a clinician who “dives into the eye
movements” is missing many significantand necessary steps to doing this
therapy. Trauma therapy, in and of itself, is recommended to occur in a
staged approach, whether EMDR or not. Nevertheless, the EMDR stages are
distinct and established in a specific order to ensure that a person is
prepared and resourced to be able to move through trauma in a way that
helps to support his or her safety and recovery.
Myth No. 4: EMDR is a one- to five-session therapy approach.
Well, yes and no—this is not a complete myth. But there is an
important caveat that all EMDR therapists should share with you. Yes, in
some cases EMDR can be a fast treatment. Yes, I have seen one- to
five-session recovery from a traumatic incident. But the people in
therapy had few other traumas, it was a one-time event, and there were
no other factors that would contribute to blocking EMDR treatment
effects. That said, in my practice, such cases are the minority. Most of
my clients are dealing with layers of trauma as well as other
Consider this: EMDR is a powerful therapy and can move traumatic
material efficiently, asking the nervous system to rewire itself and
“reorganize” the material in a more adaptive way, a way that helps
memories shift out of a “state-dependent” form. There may be other
factors, though. Is this a one-time accident or trauma with no other
traumas “stacked” on top of it? Does the person experience complex PTSD
which includes multiple and varied types of traumas? Is substance abuse or dissociation present?
Does the person have any resources and positive-feeling states that can
be accessed? These and myriad other factors can come into play. These
factors may make for a more extensive and lengthy process.
© Copyright 2014 by Sarah Jenkins, MC, LPC, CPsych, therapist in Tempe, AZ. All Rights Reserved.