Why don’t I do Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
The short answer to why I don't do EMDR is that I have been trained in EMDR and several other trauma methods and I find other methods to be more effective and responsive to the needs of individual clients. The longer answer is below.
I have studied trauma extensively and have a certification based on the study of current trauma research (Certified Clinical Trauma Professional from the International Association of Truama Professionals). I use a wide variety of trauma methods including Besel van der Kolk's somatic trauma therapy, Dan Siegel's attachment and mindfulness research, Stephen Porges' Polyvagal Theory, Joan Boreysenko's research on trauma and neurobiology, Compassion Based Trauma Therapy, and EMDR. I have also had more limited training in other methods, such as Internal Family Systems and Cognitive Behavioral Trauma Therapy. While I use some aspects of EMDR, I primarily draw on techniques from more newly developed trauma therapies.
In EMDR therapy, a client recalls a traumatic memory while doing a simple task, such as looking at a dot move on a screen or tapping their knees. The task always involves left/right movement, called bilateral stimulation, which is said to stimulate left/right brain integration, trauma processing, and the production of new memories.
EMDR has a long history of helping people (1,2,3). Research shows that it does not help because of bilateral brain stimulation, but because retelling the story in an empathetic environment helps with memory integration and retrains the body’s reactivity. Research has found that EMDR is equally effective if up/down stimulation, other stimulation, or no stimulation is used, therefore the entire reasoning behind why it works cannot be accurate (4). Research has also not found any interhemispheric (right/left brain) changes during sessions of EMDR (5).
More recent research has found many therapeutic methods that are just as effective as EMDR and some, which combine methods, to be more effective (6). I choose not to use EMDR because I find newer methods are more helpful to a larger number of people, are more individualized to the client and the particular situation, are more flexible, and are based on more recent research. I also find that newer methods have several positive side effects, such as client empowerment, which aren’t as strong with EMDR.
Drawing on many trauma-informed therapy methods provides a richer variety of options for helping a client work through trauma in a gentle way. I find using only EMDR to be limiting and not always exactly what a specific client needs at a specific time in their healing process. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have about this. If you would like to try EMDR including bilateral stimulation, I would be happy to refer you to another therapist.
1) Hogberg, G. et al., (2007). On treatment with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder in public transportation workers: A randomized controlled study. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 61, 54-61.
2) Edmond, T., Rubin, A., & Wambach, K. (1999). The effectiveness of EMDR with adult female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Social Work Research, 23, 103-116.
3) Gil-Jardine C, Evrard G, Al Joboory S, Tortes Saint Jammes J, Masson F Ribreau-Gayon R, et al. (2018).Emergency room intervention to prevent post-concussion-like symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder. J Psychiatr Res. 103:229–36.
4) Gunter, R.W., & Bodner, G.E. (2008). How eye movements affect unpleasant memories: Support for a working-memory account. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46, 913-931.
Samara, Z., Elzinga, B., Slagter, H., & Nieuwenhuis, S. (2011). Do horizontal saccadic eye movements increase interhemispheric coherence? Investigation of a hypothesized neural mechanism underlying EMDR. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2, 1–9.
5) Seidler, Günter & E Wagner, Frank. (2006). Comparing the efficacy of EMDR and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of PTSD: A meta-analytic study. Psychological medicine. 36. 1515-22. 10.1017/S0033291706007963.
6) Devilly & Spence (1999). The relative efficacy and treatment distress of EMDR and a cognitive behavioral trauma treatment protocol in the amelioration of posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 13, 131-157.