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10 Reasons EMDR May Not Work for You

What is EMDR?

By now, if you've spent much time looking for ways to heal from or deal with trauma, there's a good chance you've heard of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.

EMDR is a widely celebrated and evidenced-based technique, first developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987. It's central aim is to alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.

How is EMDR Performed?

During EMDR therapy, a client commonly focuses on a traumatic memory while the therapist directs their eye movements back and forth. This bilateral stimulation is thought to help "unstick" the memory and facilitate processing, allowing the client to experience a reduction in the intensity of negative emotions associated with the memory. The therapy may also involve other forms of bilateral stimulation, such as tapping, vibrations, or sounds.

While the exact mechanism by which EMDR works is not yet fully understood, it is thought to stimulate the brain's natural healing process and allow the client to integrate their traumatic experiences into their overall life story.

My Big Letdown.

With EMDR proven as a highly effective and widely sought after technique for healing trauma, you can imagine my disappointment when, after selecting a qualified practitioner and going through the weeks-long prep work necessary to arrive at my first EMDR session, I just couldn't seem to make the damn thing work.

Multiple sessions brought on multiple disappointments until, eventually, I gave up on the idea altogether and walked away from attempting any further.

That was several years ago now and my disappointment and questions related to why it didn't work for me have lingered ever since. That is, until I decided to ask around. It turns out, I am not alone.

Here are 10 Reasons EMDR May Not Work for You:

1. Resistance to Change

Some individuals may resist the changes that EMDR therapy is designed to bring about and may not fully engage in the process, which can limit its effectiveness.

Note: It's important to point out that EMDR is not a form of hypnosis. With EMDR, the participant must be fully willing and submitted to the process in an ongoing way. Remember, just because you are sitting there on purpose, it does not mean that you are truly opening yourself up to the process. Lack of trust in your therapist, yourself, the environment, or other unsettling factors may contribute to an increased sense of resistance on your part.

2. Complex Trauma

EMDR is most effective for treating a single traumatic event, such as a car accident or a natural disaster. If an individual has experienced multiple traumatic events or ongoing trauma, it may be more difficult to treat with EMDR alone.

3. Co-Occurring Conditions

If an individual has a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression or borderline personality disorder, EMDR may not address all of their symptoms and may need to be used in combination with other forms of therapy. Be sure to take stock of all of the factors that make up your experience to determine the correct balance of approaches for your needs.

4. Lack of Trained or Experienced Therapist

EMDR is a specialized therapy and requires extensive training. If a therapist is not properly trained in EMDR, they may not be able to effectively implement the technique, leading to limited results. Also, experience matters. If you learn that your therapist has only been practicing EMDR for a couple of weeks, it may be wise to cut yourself some slack and think about trying again somewhere else.

5. Difficulty Accessing Traumatic Memories

Some individuals may have difficulty accessing and processing traumatic memories, which can limit the effectiveness of EMDR. If this feels likely for you, discussing the challenge with your therapist may lead to helpful solutions or alternate approaches.

6. Unresolved Issues

EMDR may not be effective if there are underlying personal or psychological issues that have not been addressed, such as unresolved conflicts, deep-seated negative beliefs, or relationship problems.

7. Difficulty Focusing

The eye movements used in EMDR require a certain level of focus and concentration, which can be challenging for some individuals. If an individual has trouble maintaining focus during the therapy, it may be less effective. Thankfully, EMDR is not only limited to eye movements, so be sure to speak with your therapist about whether an alternate approach is possible.

8. High Anxiety Levels

EMDR can be an intense form of therapy, and some individuals may experience high levels of anxiety during the process, which can limit its effectiveness.

9. Health Conditions

Certain health conditions, such as vertigo or a history of seizures, may make EMDR contraindicated or difficult to perform.

10. Insufficient Length of Treatment

EMDR is often most effective when it is used in combination with other forms of therapy, and when it is performed over a sufficient length of time. If the therapy is not performed for a long enough period, it may not be effective in addressing all of the individual's symptoms.

In the end, just remember, like any form of therapy, EMDR may not work for everyone.

Some individuals may respond better to other forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication.

The important thing is not to give up on wellness. If EMDR doesn't serve your needs, don't take it personally. Speak openly and honestly with your therapist and maintain clear lines of communication to see if a better solution doesn't present itself.

What About You?

I would love to hear your feedback.

  1. Have you ever tried EMDR and did it work for you?

  2. What would you tell a friend to better-prepare them for treatment?

  3. If you could change one thing about your EMDR experience, what would it be?

  4. Can you think of other limiting factors that were not mentioned here

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One limiting factor is the science behind it is not sound. When it works, it's because it functions as ERP. When a therapist is trained in ERP specifically, a patient will have better results.

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Luke Renner
Luke Renner
08. Apr. 2023
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Thanks for your thoughts. Are you able to share any links to more information behind this?

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