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Friday, March 31, 2017

Debunking EMDR Therapy Myths

By Sarah Jenkins

As an EMDRIA Approved EMDR Training Provider, Therapist, and Consultant, I often find myself having to debunk myths about EMDR therapy or reframe and educate therapists and clients about what EMDR is or isn’t. With this in mind, this article addresses some of those “myths.” I hope that in writing it, those who are considering EMDR can be better educated consumers, and that I can also support therapists who are interested in learning about, or getting trained in EMDR therapy.

Myth 1: EMDR is a “new” therapy.

Not true. In fact, in 2014 EMDR therapy celebrated its 25th year anniversary. We have come a long way since 1987 when Dr. Francine Shapiro was walking in the park and realized that her eyes moved back and forth when she was having a disturbing thought and in doing so, it became less distressing to her. The first research studies begin not long after that in 1989 whereby it became clear the EMDR (then called EMD was an up and coming treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Myth 2: EMDR therapy is “not researched based”

Of all of the EMDR therapy myths, this is probably the biggest one and the most often stated. Since the first studies in 1989, EMDR therapy has become one of the most well researched therapeutic modalities and, in fact, has been identified as a treatment of choice for trauma. In 2013 WHO (World Health Organization) recommended it as a treatment for PTSD. In 2004, the APA (American Psychiatric Association) identified it as effective trauma treatment. In 2004 & 2010 the Veterans Administration recommended EMDR. EMDR has also been included in the SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. Additional local and international organizations have identified EMDR therapy as a research based and effective treatment for trauma. 

Myth 3: EMDR therapy is just “wagging your fingers back and forth in front of a client.”

Nope, in fact nothing could be further from the truth. It is imperative clients researching EMDR therapy or considering an EMDR therapist know that there are eight distinct phases and that a clinician who “dives into the eye movements” is actually missing many significant and necessary steps to doing this trauma therapy. Trauma therapy, in and of itself, is recommended to occur in a staged approach, whether EMDR therapy or not. Nevertheless, the EMDR therapy stages are distinct and established in a specific order to ensure that the client is prepared and resourced to be able to move through trauma in a way that helps to support the client’s safety and recovery.

Myth 4: That EMDR therapy is a 1-5 session therapy approach.

This is a yes and a no, so it is not a complete myth. BUT, there is a very important caveat that all EMDR therapists should share with you. Yes, in some cases EMDR therapy can be a really fast treatment. Yes, I have seen 1-5 session recovery from a traumatic incident but at the same time — the client had few other traumas, it was a one-time event, and the client had no other factors that would contribute to blocking EMDR therapy treatment effects. That said, in my practice, those clients are the minority. Most of my clients are dealing with layers up layers of traumas as well as other challenges. 

Consider this — EMDR therapy is very powerful and can move traumatic material in a very efficient way, asking the nervous system to rewire itself and “reorganize” the traumatic material in a more adaptive way, a way that helps the memories shift out of a “state dependent” form. That said, it depends on some other factors. Is this a one time accident or trauma with no other traumas “stacked on top of it?” Or, in contrast, does the client suffer from complex PTSD which includes multiple and types of traumas and at different developmental stages, is substance abuse, and dissociation present, does the client have any resources and positive feeling states that can be accessed? Has the dissociation been treated first? These and a myriad of other factors come into play. So, the myth that EMDR therapy is a fast treatment is actually more that it may be – but if there are other complicating factors and complex PTSD, it makes it a more extensive and lengthy process.

If you are someone considering EMDR therapy, I hope that this article has given you some additional things to consider as you research EMDR Therapy for your healing journey. If you are a therapist who is interested in taking an EMDRIA Approved EMDR Basic Training, please contact me; my next one starts on May 18th, 2017. I would love to support your bringing EMDR therapy into your practice.


With a thriving private practice in Tempe, Arizona, Sarah Jenkins, MC, LPC, CPsychol is an EMDRIA Approved EMDR Training Provider, EMDRIA & HAP Approved EMDR Consultant, Certified EMDR therapist, and Equine Assisted Therapist. A trauma and dissociation specialist, and EMDR therapist for over fifteen years, Sarah provides ongoing consultation for those seeking to increase their confidence in utilizing EMDR therapy with complex cases. Her expertise includes teaching the application of structural dissociation theory for the treatment of dissociation. Sarah’s EMDRIA Approved EMDR Basic Training also provides attendees with additional curriculum on dissociation and the treatment of complex trauma. A highly sought after public speaker, Sarah has conducted numerous workshops, presentations, and seminars for a variety of corporations and federally funded organizations as well as spoken at numerous national and international conferences including EMDRIA, EMDR Canada, and EMDR Europe. For more information visit www.DragonflyInternaionalTherapy.com.