EMDR Therapy – A new way of treating anxiety

EMDR Therapy - A new way of treating anxiety

Are you looking for effective treatments for treating anxiety symptoms and restoring the quality of your mental health and psychological well-being? Then, taking advantage of modern techniques such as EMDR therapy for treating anxiety may be what you’re looking for.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR therapy, is a short-term psychotherapy that aims to transform the way the brain processes emotions and cognitions related to unresolved traumas and distressing experiences. This therapy is based on bi-lateral stimulation and, as studies have shown, it can effectively treat various forms of anxiety, including panic attacks, phobias, PTSD, and OCD (e.g., Faretta & Dal Farla, 2019; Yunitri et al., 2020).

Since the study results of EMDR therapy are consistently promising, nowadays, more and more clinicians are incorporating this technique for treating anxiety with other traditional talk therapies to help people who struggle with severe anxiety.

In this article, we’ll discuss EMDR therapy as a new way of treating anxiety, explore the types of EMDR counseling, and compare it to other types of anxiety treatment. You’ll also find research-based evidence about its effectiveness to determine how effective it can be for your individual situation and symptoms.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a structured therapy based on the bilateral stimulation of the brain (BLS). While this may sound odd at first, bilateral stimulation (such as eye movement, tapping, or sounds) in tandem with the EMDR techniques has been proven incredibly effective. Researchers believe that bilateral stimulation does something to activate the brain’s information processing system.

During EMDR Therapy sessions, clients process traumatic memories and experience bilateral stimulation simultaneously. This technique is effective in reducing the vividness of the trauma memories and feelings while restructuring the negative emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations associated with it. As a result, new and more adaptive emotions and thoughts arise, and an individual can find ways to heal from traumas by resolving unprocessed memories.

EMDR Therapy is a relatively new therapy method compared to traditional therapies such as CBT or “talk therapy.” In fact, it was initially developed in 1987 by American psychologist Francine Shapiro as a new way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The results of her original study showed that EMDR effectively restructured individuals’ cognitions and desensitized their traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989).

Currently, EMDR therapy is recognized as an effective therapy by multiple international organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the World Health Organization.

How Does EMDR Work for Treating Anxiety?

The original purpose of EMDR therapy was to help individuals heal from unprocessed traumas. Therefore, its key target has always been PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. However, it turns out that EMDR treatment works fundamentally the same for treating anxiety disorders.

One of the reasons is that, similar to PTSD, anxiety disorders also involve both physiological and psychological symptoms, and the original purpose of EMDR was to help people recover from psychological trauma by overcoming the symptoms physically.

Generally, EMDR works the same way for treating anxiety. In particular, EMDR therapists ask their clients to focus on anxiety-provoking stimuli while directing their eyes back and forth using the BLS (bi-lateral stimulation) technique–or other non-invasive methods. As a result, clients normally spontaneously have different thought patterns and emotions, and can even eliminate some painful bodily sensations.

Often, EMDR Therapy is utilized with a combination of talk-therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or medications; especially in cases of phobias and social anxiety. Recent studies have demonstrated that EMDR therapy interventions significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias (Yunitri et al., 2020).

Types of Anxiety that EMDR Therapy Can Treat

Research has found that EMDR therapy for treating anxiety can work effectively with various types of anxiety-related disorders (e.g., Brooker, 2017). Therefore, therapists often use it either as an individual form of treatment or as an additional intervention with traditional talk therapies.

Here are some of the most common types of anxiety that can be treated by the EMDR technique:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Phobias
  • Social anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Agoraphobia
  • Performance anxiety

Traditional Methods for Anxiety vs EMDR

As we mentioned, EMDR Therapy is considered an alternative form of traditional therapy methods such as CBT or talk therapy. The main difference in both cases is that EMDR therapy doesn’t involve talking about distressing memories or negative thoughts in detail.

While traditional therapies require active participation from individuals during therapy sessions to change their negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, during EMDR, clients are rather passive, as it involves eye movements (or Bi-Lateral Stimulation) for processing traumatic memories in the brain.

Let’s point out specific differences between EMDR Therapy and traditional therapies such as CBT and psychotherapy for treating anxiety.


Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common type of therapy that aims to help people change their negative patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by adopting positive ones. Even though both CBT and EMDR try to change negative mindsets, these two therapies are based on completely different approaches.

In fact, EMDR Therapy procedures consist of focusing on eye movements or bi-lateral stimulation and take place over 8 phases. On the other hand, during CBT sessions, clients talk through their problems with therapists, while EMDR doesn’t necessarily focus on talking through logical caveats again and again. Besides, CBT mainly focuses on current problems instead of the origin of the problem or past traumas.

The length of these two forms of therapy is also different — EMDR Therapy is relatively quick, as sometimes clients can see results in just 4-6 sessions.  At the same time, CBT is a longer form of therapy that includes regular sessions and can continue for 20 sessions or more. Now, for some people EMDR therapy as part of counseling can last a lot longer–but when you are able to get into the actual EMDR process, the results can be much quicker than CBT. The caveat is that you must be ready to process the trauma and this can take some time to get to.

Interestingly, the results of a 2018 meta-analysis about the comparison of EMDR Therapy with CBT showed that EMDR Therapy reduces the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety more effectively. However, both treatments have the same effects on depression symptoms (Khan et al., 2018). In addition, a 2017 study suggests that EMDR is effective as CBT for treating panic disorder (Horst et al., 2017)

EMDR Therapy vs Talk Therapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a traditional form of therapy that aims to help people identify their problems and deal with emotional distress with the help of their therapist in a safe and secure environment. Generally, psychotherapy is a long-term process, while EMDR Therapy works faster than conventional talk therapy. EMDR therapy does, of course, utilize many elements of talk therapy as well.

Besides, unlike talk therapy, processing distressing experiences through EMDR also helps clients automatically process other associated negative memories. Therefore, it’s especially effective for people who are struggling with past unresolved traumas. In addition, considering that EMDR Therapy identifies the root cause of the problem instead of addressing symptoms, it can provide deeper healing from trauma than other forms of therapy. However, if you are desiring more conversational interactions then using EMDR therapy in addition to psychotherapy may be the right combination of counseling for you.

EMDR Therapy Options at Grand Rapids

If you’re struggling with anxiety and considering taking advantage of this new way of treating anxiety in Grand Rapids, the professional counselors at Health for Life Counseling are here to help! Our trauma-informed counseling center offers EMDR treatment options based on research-backed strategies to help you restore emotional resilience and develop effective coping skills.

So, reach out to us either in Grand Rapids, MI, and Ada, MI, or talk to our trained EMDR counselors online to feel the benefits of this integrative psychotherapy methodology.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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