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  • Christie Pearl, LMHC, LPC

Top 5 Myths and Facts About EMDR Therapy

If you are someone who is considering EMDR therapy, a quick google search can leave you feeling like EMDR is either a miraculous cure all or it's a snake oil fad that's dangerous at worst and ineffective at best.

After practicing trauma therapy for almost 20 years, and now being a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDRIA Approved Consultant who has done hundreds of EMDR therapy sessions, I have seen so many clients who are looking for that one thing that's going to help them finally put their past behind them. And it can be hard to decipher fact from fiction through all the noise on the internet.

My hope for you is that this blog will give you the information you need to dispel a few of the most common myths about EMDR therapy and know the facts for yourself.

MYTH #1: EMDR therapy will feel overwhelming or scary.

FACT: There is a difference between pain and overwhelm. Good EMDR therapy starts with a sense of enough comfort and safety in the here and now – comfort and safety in your own body/mind/spirit as well as in the therapeutic relationship. The goal in EMDR therapy is to enable you to resolve unfinished emotional business from the past without becoming overwhelmed, emotionally flooded or checking out. EMDR allows you to observe your memories rather than being consumed by them. Even when processing painful memories or emotions, my goal as your therapist is to be with you every step of the way. My hope is that you don’t feel alone in the process.

MYTH #2: EMDR therapy is a fad.

FACT: While there has been a lot of buzz around EMDR lately, thanks to celebrities (like Prince Harry and Sandra Bullock) who have experienced the powerful benefits of EMDR therapy, EMDR has been an evidence-based practice for over three decades. EMDR has been supported by an extensive body of scientific research and is endorsed by a number of industry leading organizations around the world.

MYTH #3: EMDR is a technique that is “done to” a client, kind of like hypnosis.

FACT: Research has shown that the most important factor that predicts a successful outcome in therapy is the client-therapist relationship. What this means is that – aside from what approach to therapy we might be using – our relationship is the primary mechanism for growth and change. My approach to EMDR therapy is relational. I do not use EMDR as a technique that I whip out every now and then, but as an overall integrated approach to therapy. We engage in the process of therapy together.

Some people mistakenly believe that EMDR therapy is like hypnosis. EMDR therapy does not involve hypnosis or trance-like states. EMDR allows you to reprocess distressing memories and experiences by observing and engaging with own cognitive, emotional and physical awareness in the present.

MYTH #4: EMDR is just for PTSD.

FACT: While EMDR therapy was originally known for being an effective treatment for trauma-related conditions such as PTSD, we now know that EMDR is effective for addressing a wide range of conditions. Symptoms such as depression, anxiety, addictions, chronic pain, self-esteem issues, and performance issues – just to name a few – often have underlying roots in early attachment experiences that can be resolved using EMDR therapy. In addition, EMDR continues to be a valuable treatment for both single-incident traumas – such as car accidents or sexual assaults – as well as chronic or complex trauma and attachment issues – such as patterns of emotional abandonment through childhood emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, or childhood emotional neglect. The length of treatment will vary according to the complexity of the issues requiring attention.

MYTH #5: We are “doing EMDR” when we are doing eye movements.

FACT: We are “doing EMDR” from the moment we begin working together. The standard EMDR therapy protocol is an 8-phase process that includes history-taking and assessment, preparation and resource building, reducing the level of disturbance that you feel in the here and now about the issue you are working on, building and strengthening new neural pathways that allow you to have a more adaptive response to the issue, and scanning your body for any physical memory that your body may be holding onto so that we can make sure your body, mind and emotions are all on the same page about the issue.

Bonus myth and fact, just for good measure (don’t mind me, I like to over-deliver 😊)

MYTH #6: I can’t do EMDR if I don’t remember what happened.

FACT: You don’t have to remember what happened to benefit from EMDR therapy. “How can that be?” you might ask. The reason is that human beings have different types of what we call “memory.” Usually when a person says they don’t remember, they are referring to their cognitive memory, their “thinking brain.” What most people don’t know is that we also have emotional memory and physical memory, and that all of these sources of information exist in a bundle of experience along our neural pathways in our brains. It is very common for a person to not have a full, clear, cohesive cognitive memory of a traumatic experience, since, by definition, trauma is something that was so overwhelming at the time that your brain could not process it adaptively. However, we can clearly define the triggers, symptoms, emotions, physical sensations and beliefs associated with that experience that the person is experiencing in the present. These symptoms are the foci of EMDR therapy.

Now that you know the facts about EMDR therapy, you are hopefully in a better position to decide whether or not you want to consider this approach to healing.

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