If you’ve ever heard of EMDR Therapy, you might also have come across a few misconceptions about this innovative form of therapy. As EMDR Therapy gains recognition in the field of mental health, so does the need for clarity about what it truly entails.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, commonly known as EMDR Therapy, is an integrative psychotherapy approach that aims to help individuals reprocess distress associated with traumatic memories and adverse experiences. It’s designed to stimulate the brain through bilateral stimulation — a process that activates both hemispheres (or sides) of the brain.
EMDR Therapy is an empirically-validated technique, backed by hundreds of studies that demonstrate its effectiveness in treating a range of mental health conditions, particularly those related to trauma. For instance, it’s an effective treatment for PTSD (Haour & Beaurepaire, 2016), depression (Hase et al., 2015), anxiety disorders (Scelles & Bulnes, 2021), and other mental health concerns.
However, as information about EMDR Therapy spreads, so do myths and misunderstandings. These misconceptions create unnecessary confusion, especially for those considering this form of therapy.
So, what’s the truth behind EMDR Therapy? Let’s debunk 5 of the most common misconceptions about EMDR Therapy and discover accurate, clear information to help you make informed decisions about your mental health.
5 Misconceptions about EMDR Therapy
Myth 1: EMDR Therapy is a Form of Hypnosis
One of the most common misunderstandings about EMDR Therapy is the belief that it’s a form of hypnosis. This misconception likely comes from the fact that both EMDR Therapy and hypnosis involve a state of focused attention. But other than this, EMDR Therapy is nothing like hypnosis.
In fact, EMDR Therapy is a non-hypnotic therapy that doesn’t involve the therapist taking control of the client’s mind or inducing a trance-like state. Instead, EMDR Therapy helps individuals process past traumatic experiences. During EMDR Therapy, the therapist guides the client to recall distressing events while the client focuses on an external stimulus (eye movements, hand tapping, or auditory cues).
The main difference is that during EMDR Therapy, a client is fully conscious and in control, while hypnosis often aims to induce a state of deep relaxation or unconsciousness. As a result, it may even create psychological barriers that limit access to traumatic memory.
On the other hand, EMDR Therapy allows the client to reprocess traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment.
So, while EMDR Therapy does involve a state of focused attention, it is not a form of hypnosis.
Myth 2: Only Eye Movements are Used for Bilateral Stimulation in EMDR Therapy
Another misconception that often surfaces about EMDR Therapy is the belief that only eye movements are used for bilateral stimulation during therapy. This misunderstanding arises from the name itself – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
While it’s true that eye movements were the initial form of bilateral stimulation used in EMDR Therapy, they are not the only method. EMDR Therapy has evolved over the years, and therapists now use a variety of bilateral stimulation techniques based on the client’s needs.
In addition to guided eye movements, therapists may use hand tapping, auditory tones, or even sensory stimulation. For example, a 2016 study shows the effectiveness of using tactile stimulation devices (Amano & Toichi, 2016). In each of the cases, the goal remains the same: to engage the brain’s information processing systems and help the client reprocess traumatic memories.
Myth 3: EMDR Therapy Works Immediately
While EMDR Therapy is a powerful therapy, it doesn’t provide an immediate fix. Instead, EMDR Therapy is a complex process that involves several stages before the core reprocessing work even begins.
The truth is that EMDR Therapy is structured into 8 phases:
- History taking
- Client preparation
- Body scan
- Reevaluation of treatment effect
The actual desensitization session, where the client focuses on traumatic memories while receiving bilateral stimulation, doesn’t start until the 4th phase. And usually, you reach this stage around your fourth or fifth visit to the therapist.
Before that, the first few stages are all about understanding your needs and teaching you ways to handle discomfort. These skills are important because they help you stay comfortable when you start working on your memories.
Besides, every individual has unique needs. So, the time it takes to start working on memories can change from person to person. Your therapist might even suggest trying a different type of therapy before starting EMDR Therapy. Depending on your level of symptom severity, EMDR therapy may have to be combined with other types of therapy–and a great deal of homework, grounding techniques, and other at-home and community interventions may have to be implemented to allow EMDR therapy to reach the effects you desire.
Myth 4: EMDR Therapy is Only Beneficial for Specific Types of Traumas
There’s a misconception that EMDR Therapy is only effective for certain types of traumas, particularly those involving visual memories. But this is not the case.
EMDR Therapy was initially developed to help people deal with traumatic memories, and yes, many of these memories can be visual. But the therapy has evolved and is now used to help people process a wide range of distressing memories and experiences, not just visual ones.
Some people even believe that if they don’t have PTSD, EMDR Therapy won’t work for them or it will only work if they remember specific details about the traumatic event. These beliefs, however, are not accurate. EMDR therapy does not need to only focus on “traumatic events”; adverse events, repeated experiences (themes in one’s life), and unwelcome beliefs can also be targets for EMDR therapy. In this way, EMDR Therapy can be utilized for people that do not have PTSD, but yet want to experience the healing effects of EMDR therapy.
As we pointed out, EMDR Therapy can be used to treat various conditions, including anxiety, depression, phobias, and addiction, not just PTSD. Moreover, the effectiveness of EMDR Therapy doesn’t rely on the conscious recall of traumatic events. It can tap into how these memories are stored in the brain, even if they’re outside of your conscious awareness. In fact, some people just have somatic feelings in the body that bother them daily–and EMDR therapy can be utilized to target these feelings alone.
Keep in mind that not all traumatic experiences result in PTSD, but they can still cause distress. EMDR Therapy can help such individuals overcome their distress and return to normal functioning. Again, even adverse experiences that result in anxiety, depression, or other maladies can be targeted– one does not have to have “full PTSD” to benefit from EMDR therapy.
Myth 5: EMDR Therapy Creates False Memories
And finally, people often fear that EMDR Therapy might create false memories. However, this belief is not supported by the evidence. As a matter of fact, EMDR Therapy is a therapy designed to help you reprocess what already exists in your memories. It’s not about verifying the accuracy of memory or creating new ones.
Still, it’s important to remember that memories, by their nature, can change over time and may not be entirely accurate. But the focus of EMDR Therapy is on your current experience of a memory. It’s about how you perceive and react to that memory now, not about the exact details of the event. The goal is to help you rework old information and find adaptive ways to feel safe when thinking about your traumatic memories.
It’s true that the process of recalling distressing events while focusing on an external stimulus may reveal additional details about your traumatic event. Still, these are not new or false memories. Instead, they are aspects of the original memory that were not fully processed at the time of the event.
So, while EMDR Therapy can lead to a more complete understanding of a traumatic event, it does not create false memories. EMDR Therapy is working to help a person become less disturbed by a difficult memory as well as integrate this memory into their past by making meaning and working to help the person become more present in their current life without the severity of triggers experienced previously.
After debunking some common misconceptions about EMDR Therapy, hopefully, you now have a clearer understanding of this powerful therapeutic approach.
EMDR Therapy isn’t an easy solution, but a journey that requires your active participation and can lead to significant healing. So, if you’re dealing with traumatic experiences, anxiety, or other distressing memories, don’t hesitate to seek help from professional therapists that have EMDR training and/or EMDR Certification.
At Health for Life Counseling, our licensed counselors are ready to guide you on your healing journey. We offer EMDR Therapy treatment options to help you restore emotional resilience and develop practical coping skills.
Whether you’re in Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI, or prefer online sessions from the comfort of your own home, we’re here for you. Don’t let misconceptions hold you back! Reach out to us today and start your journey towards better mental health. You can learn more about trauma and its effects on a person here.