EMDR: a miracle therapy?

Most people have heard about EMDR, a therapy that Shapiro created. It’s supposedly THE treatment for PTSD or other trauma related things. What bothers me is all the websites that say how well EMDR works. You’ll read phrases such as: “you only need 3 EMDR sessions and you’ve gotten rid of your PTSD”; “it has a 100% succes rate”; “it’s not as emotionally hard as other treatments” etc. Or you’ll read how it works for everyone and every kind of trauma or multiple traumas. When I tell someone I’ve PTSD, they usually immediately ask me if I’ve done EMDR. I haven’t. Most people can’t accept that I haven’t and still dare to say to people that I’m trying everything. EMDR isn’t right for every trauma and every person. It can go (drastically) wrong too.

There already are many articles on how EMDR works, so I don’t want to go there. Except that, according to all the information I could find, so far researchers don’t really have evidence that moving your eyes (or other left-right movements) actually work for processing. They do have evidence that the therapy works, they just don’t know how and if the left-right movement truly help. The only research that did have this evidence, was done by the creator of EMDR herself. That research was based on a group of people who got EMDR sessions where they could talk as long as they needed and show all their emotions. And the control group who only had 20 minutes and then had to leave. She also claimed that she could cure everyone within 1 hour with her EMDR. The claims they make about EMDR are now less high, but still high. However, I don’t want to write a whole article on EMDR being a placebo or anything. And even if it is a placebo, if it would work for me to lessen some of my symptoms, I would still be glad. What I do want to do with this article is make people a bit more cautious. It isn’t a miracle therapy or suitable for everyone and I’m worried about the extreme focus of the professionals on EMDR for PTSD.


[Photo of a woman holding 2 fingers in front of another woman’s face at a small distance]

It’s very tough to go through EMDR, because it triggers a lot. You need to have a safe place where you can recover the rest of the week, preferably with someone around you who you trust and can help you. You might need to (temporarily) stop work/school etc. Your symptoms will first become worse and if the therapy works for you, will become less. Sadly, I’ve heard enough stories not ending with the symptoms becoming less. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this therapy. I just want to shine a light on the other side of the story, since we can read a lot about the miracles. You can find more about bad experiences with EMDR here on the PTSD forum.

I think it is often underestimated how hard EMDR can be for the client. They say you’re in a safe place during the session (which often takes 45 minutes). It might take quite some time before this therapeutic environment can be a safe place for you, at least in my experience it does. When I read that it happens in a safe place, I immediately wonder: what happens when you leave? I mean, you can’t stay in the safe, therapeutic environment till your next session. It’s something to think about. You don’t want to go in unprepared, this also applies to the people supporting someone going through EMDR. The memories and flashbacks won’t stop just because the 45 minutes are over. Sadly, PTSD doesn’t work that way.

I think it’s very important that professionals first establish if the client has enough tools/techniques to handle their emotions, BEFORE starting EMDR. So far, I’ve only met one psychologist who talked about this with her clients. It’s so important that you can handle yourself, before you start “diving in the deep”. And I’m sure that if professionals give it a thought, they wouldn’t want to trigger patients in automutilation or suicidal tendencies. But they often don’t think about this.

Another point of concern is that EMDR doesn’t work well for multiple (and/or long-lasting) traumas or complex PTSD. Having multiple traumas really multiplies the complexity and difficulty. Not a lot of therapists can deal with multiple traumas. As always it’s very important to know beforehand, how much knowledge and experience your therapist has.

If EMDR is the right way for you, I’m happy for you. I’m not trying to discourage people to try any treatment. I’m just trying to spread some awareness, because as for every treatment: you need to think carefully about it, before trying. Every treatment can have (serious) negative side-effects. This doesn’t mean it’ll happen to you too, but like I said, I’m worried about the massive amount of one-sided information on EMDR. There is no treatment that works for everyone or make you forget every bad thing that ever happened to you.

Take care while being on your healing journey!
Photo source




2 thoughts on “EMDR: a miracle therapy?

  1. Well written. And with some important points. I think the biggest problem with EMDR is that the knowledge about complex ptsd and complex trauma and how to treat it is somewhat non existing. Most therapist that do EMDR don’t have enough training and knowledge about treating those really complex “cases” and therefore rush things. Which of course only ends in personal disaster for the client. For me EMDR is the only kind of treatment and therapy that ever helped me. And I’ve tried everything there is to try! Thanks to the method and a therapist highly trained in complex trauma I’ve slowly but surely started to se that it is possible for me to have a good life sometime in the future. But it is really hard work! EMDR is NOT easy. And my therapist was very clear on that point before we started. Also it took almost six months of preparation and building trust before we could get started. Also for a therapist to start EMDR treatment without external security like social support and a stabile life situation is highly unethical since it is going to stir up a lot of difficult things to handle for the client. Luckily I have both. And even thou I probably would have wanted to try the EMDR earlier in my life. I se that it would just not have been possible and probably would have ende in me getting in REALLY bad shape. I mean when we started it was really rough. And if I had nor had my partner and otherwise stabile circumstances I probably would not have been able to hang in there initially until things started to settle and some processing had been done.

    I recommend everyone thats suffering from complex trauma to try EMDR. But EMDR is not just a miracle cure in it self. It needs to be administered by someone who knows how to i regards to complex ptsd. So I guess my recommendation is rather: try EMDR with a therapist who knows how to use it for complex ptsd. Otherwise, don’t.

    Also as my therapist says: there is no method that works for everyone. We are all different.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad to hear there are therapists who know this and use this. I agree with you completely, a support system is important and getting to know your therapist very well and vice versa, and yes we are all different and sadly nothing works for everyone. I hope it is going much better with you and the complex ptsd now after the treatment. Do you only notice the ptsd “now and then”? I think it’s something you always need to take care of, meaning taking good care of yourself to prevent fallbacks and pay attention to “warning signs”. Although I hope you could eventually say “I don’t have it anymore”, but I think/worry that’s not completely possible, although maybe you won’t notice anything from the ptsd for 10 years or so. But because we can’t forget the traumas, including the pain it used to give us.


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