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  • Writer's pictureJessicah Walker Herche, PhD, HSPP

Does EMDR Really Work?

I often share with clients that if I had not witnessed the effectiveness of EMDR for processing and healing trauma, I too would question the validity of it. As humans, something different or odd or strange often feels like it comes with red flags or alarms. That makes sense since our brain is on the lookout for danger to keep us safe. However, let’s look at what the research has found about the efficacy of EMDR for trauma.


What Does The Research Suggest About The Effectiveness Of EMDR?


The efficacy of EMDR for trauma, specifically Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, is controversial due various interpretations of the evidence. Here is a summary of the findings: 


  • Studies have shown that EMDR, compared to no treatment, reduces symptoms of PTSD. This is good news! It means EMDR is more helpful for resolving trauma than doing nothing for it. 

  • Studies have also shown that, when the effectiveness of EMDR and exposure therapy are compared, the reduction in PTSD symptoms is about the same. This means that, although EMDR is effective, it is about as helpful as exposure therapy for trauma. 

  • It is theorized that the eye movements associated with EMDR are the mechanism of change, meaning eye movements are what make it effective. However, given no differences in outcomes between EMDR and exposure therapy, the necessity of eye movements is brought into question. This means that the scientific community at large is still trying to determine what it is about EMDR that leads to positive outcomes and it is unclear whether eye movements is answer. 


Based on these findings, EMDR is an effective treatment for trauma – as effective as exposure therapy, although it is still up for debate what it is about EMDR that actually creates this healing effect. 


Here are few of my musings about why EMDR might be such a safe and helpful intervention for so many trauma survivors.



Safely Processing Trauma With EMDR


One of the strengths of this intervention is the structure it provides for gradually and sensitively approaching trauma wounds. EMDR is an 8-phase protocol, with a defined structure to each phase. For example, the first two phases incorporate treatment planning and affect management, and together these two phases are powerful in (1) guiding clients toward making connections and having greater clarity around trauma pieces they had not considered previously and (2) equipping clients with practical, effective skills to contain and calm their emotion and somatic sensations. The structure of EMDR coupled with the in-the-moment emotion regulation training offers a solid foundation from which to engage in the trauma processing work safely. 


And You Don’t Have To Talk About The Details Of Your Trauma For EMDR To Work


Another strength of EMDR pertains to how it is different from talk therapy. We do talk in EMDR. Yet, we are not using verbal language as the primary mode for processing and healing. Speaking the details of trauma is not needed with EMDR. Much of the processing is taking place in your mind versus via spoken language. This is a huge relief to many as (1) some they feel they have talked ad nauseam about their trauma without any shift in its stickiness and (2) others are unable to speak about the trauma or cannot remember many details of the trauma. 


Should I Try EMDR?


Therapists trained in EMDR believe in its effectiveness because they witness transformations in their clients that other interventions have been unable to create. Many clients who have experienced EMDR will also speak to its effectiveness, with much gratitude for how it has served to heal psychological wounds they thought they would live with forever. 


Given these scientific and anecdotal findings, it comes down to you, the individual, trying it out to see how well it works (as long as it is not contraindicated, of course). Any step you take toward healing is a courageous step. 


If you believe EMDR is the next step for your healing journey, be sure to find a therapist who has received EMDRIA-approved training. EMDRIA is a professional association for EMDR practitioners and researchers to seek the highest standards for clinical use of EMDR.


Seeking Professional Help: If you would like to heal from trauma and have not tried EMDR yet, working with an EMDR therapist can be the ticket to emotional freedom you have been longing for. To find out more about EMDR therapy, please call or text 317-747-0574 or visit our contact page


Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional psychological care, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 


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