So, you tried EMDR therapy to deal with a traumatic event in your life, but it didn’t have the effect you were hoping for. Now you might be thinking that the effectiveness of EMDR therapy is not as great as people say, or that you’re somehow to blame for the therapy’s lack of success.
The truth is that while EMDR is a highly effective therapy for many individuals, it may not work for everyone. Why? Because the effectiveness of EMDR therapy depends on a wide range of factors, including your trauma history, personality, and readiness for therapy.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a quick fix for trauma, you should know that no — EMDR is not a panacea or magic trick. However, it does work and has helped many individuals recover from trauma.
Let’s take a closer look at the effectiveness of EMDR therapy and its limitations, point out when it’s an effective treatment solution, and when you might need to consider alternative options.
How Does EMDR Work?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is based on the idea that traumatic experiences disrupt the normal processing of information in the brain. And indeed – after experiencing trauma, individuals often develop maladaptive coping mechanisms and mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions (Choi et al., 2015).
EMDR aims to help clients reprocess the traumatic memory and integrate it into their long-term memory in a more adaptive way. For this, EMDR therapists use bilateral stimulation techniques and guide clients through a series of eye movements, sounds, or taps while they recall the traumatic event (in a safe and structured manner).
The purpose is to stimulate the brain’s natural processing capabilities. However, in this type of therapy, “processing” doesn’t necessarily mean talking and reflecting on a trauma. Instead, it’s a process of activating certain parts of the brain to achieve quick and natural emotional healing.
Considering this, individuals who want to overcome trauma as fast as possible often reach out to EMDR therapists. While it does speed up the process of healing, if your brain is dealing with multiple stressors at the same time, the EMDR technique won’t necessarily be a quick solution without a proper counseling process.
Why EMDR Doesn’t Always Work?
Before discussing why EMDR doesn’t always work, you should also understand what it means that it doesn’t work. In fact, individuals who report that this type of treatment didn’t work mean that their trauma-related symptoms, such as flashbacks, didn’t disappear or that they still experience painful emotions related to the event.
In either case, the main reason why some people might not get the desired results is that not everyone is ready for the intense emotional work that this specific type of treatment requires. If you’re dealing with a complex trauma, using bilateral stimulation while recalling a single negative event may not have much effect on the other painful memories.
But having to deal with complex trauma isn’t the only reason why the effectiveness of EMDR therapy may suffer. If the traumatic event you and your therapist are working on is too recent, you’re probably still in a state of shock or denial. In such cases, EMDR isn’t a quick fix, and individuals may need to find a therapist who is adept at Recent Incident Protocol with EMDR Therapy.
In such cases of extreme shock, it may be advised to participate both in relational talk therapy as well as EMDR therapy at once. Once your therapist is sure that you’re emotionally ready and can fully benefit from the treatment, they can start incorporating EMDR and other talk therapy strategies as part of a broader treatment plan.
Factors that Impact the Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy
Generally, EMDR Therapy is considered an effective treatment for PTSD (Haour & Beaurepaire, 2016), depression (Hase et al., 2015), and various other mental health disorders. However, certain factors determine the effectiveness of EMDR therapy in achieving the desired outcome.
Here are some of the key factors that can influence the effectiveness of EMDR therapy:
- The nature of the trauma
The type and severity of the trauma can play a significant role in how effective EMDR therapy is for an individual. Individuals who have experienced multiple traumas or long-term trauma may require different forms of therapy along with EMDR (or advanced EMDR therapy protocols such as ego-state therapy, flash technique, and a combination of EMDR and Internal Family Systems.
- Readiness for therapy
The readiness and motivation of an individual for therapy can also have a significant impact on the effectiveness of EMDR therapy. If the individual is not fully committed to the therapy process or is resistant to the idea of EMDR therapy, it may not be as effective.
- Comorbid conditions
If your trauma is accompanied by co-occurring conditions such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, it may be more difficult to see significant improvement with EMDR alone. In these cases, a combination of therapies or treatments will be more beneficial for healing.
- Treatment expectancy
Research suggests that the beliefs and expectations of the individual undergoing EMDR therapy can contribute to EMDR’s effectiveness (Littel, van Schie & van den Hout, 2017).
- Being adapted to unhealthy coping
Individuals who experience trauma often develop maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with it, such as disconnecting from emotions. If the brain and nervous system are used to disconnect from emotions, it might be challenging to engage in the processing of traumatic memories and may slow or hinder the effectiveness of EMDR therapy. In these cases, an advanced EMDR therapist can help an individual develop their ability to change coping patterns so that they are able to participate in EMDR therapy.
Benefits of EMDR Therapy— When You Should Consider It
EMDR therapy has gained significant attention in recent years as a promising treatment for trauma and related disorders. But what exactly are the benefits of EMDR, how can you improve the effectiveness of EMDR therapy, and when should you consider it?
The following are some of the research-backed benefits of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing:
- EMDR therapy can be a relatively fast and effective treatment for trauma and related disorders, especially compared to traditional talk therapy. Many clients report significant improvements in just a few sessions. (Shapiro, 2014).
- Unlike traditional talk therapy, EMDR therapy does not require clients to extensively talk about or relive their traumatic experiences. Instead, EMDR focuses on reprocessing the traumatic memories in a way that helps reduce the emotional charge associated with them.
- EMDR helps individuals to re-learn how to cope with difficult experiences by stimulating the brain’s natural processing capabilities. As a result, it can speed up the learning process of the brain and nervous system. This is called the “adaptive information processing” network–and is detailed in the literature about EMDR therapy.
Considering this, if you’re experiencing symptoms related to trauma and are looking for a proven and effective therapy option, EMDR is worth considering. Even if you’re afraid that it can lead to emotional dysregulation during the reprocessing of your trauma, competent counselors always make sure that you’re ready for this technique before using it. So, don’t forget to consult with a qualified mental health professional to determine if EMDR is the right form of therapy for you.
Final Thoughts on the Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy
Traumatic experiences can leave a significant impact on a person’s mental health and well-being. While there are many treatment options available, EMDR therapy can be a beneficial choice for those struggling with trauma.
However, keep in mind that EMDR is not a one-size-fits-all solution and the effectiveness of EMDR therapy can vary based on individual factors. Other treatments, such as Trauma-focused CBT, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can also be helpful for trauma survivors.
At Health for Life Counseling, we offer EMDR therapy and other evidence-based treatments to support our clients in their healing journeys. Don’t hesitate to seek help from our professional therapists at our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI, or talk to us online. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and you don’t have to go through it alone!