Trauma can leave lasting scars on our minds and emotions.  For many, reliving traumatic memories can be debilitating, leading to anxiety, depression, and a sense of hopelessness.  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy offers a unique approach to healing from trauma, helping individuals process and integrate disturbing memories in a safe and controlled environment.

Does EMDR Help with Trauma?

Yes,  EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of trauma-related conditions, including:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Dissociation
  • Panic attacks

Numerous studies have shown that EMDR therapy can significantly reduce the emotional distress associated with traumatic memories.  It can also help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve their overall well-being.  

Here’s a closer look at how EMDR works:

  • Reprocessing Traumatic Memories: During EMDR therapy, individuals revisit traumatic memories in a controlled setting while engaging in bilateral stimulation, which can involve eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones. This bilateral stimulation is thought to help the brain reprocess the memory in a healthier way, reducing its emotional intensity.
  • Cognitive Restructuring: EMDR therapy also incorporates cognitive restructuring techniques. This helps individuals develop more positive beliefs about themselves and the traumatic experience. By challenging negative self-perceptions and reframing the event, individuals can gain a stronger sense of empowerment and control.

Who is Not a Good Candidate for EMDR Therapy?

While EMDR therapy can be a powerful tool for healing, it may not be suitable for everyone. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Unprocessed Acute Trauma: Individuals who have recently experienced a traumatic event may benefit from crisis intervention or stabilization techniques before beginning EMDR therapy. The intense focus on traumatic memories during EMDR may not be appropriate in the immediate aftermath of a trauma.
  • Severe Mental Health Conditions: People with severe mental health conditions, such as psychosis, may require additional support and medication management alongside EMDR therapy. EMDR therapy can be very emotionally challenging, and individuals with severe mental health conditions may need additional support to manage the intensity of the process.
  • Dissociation Issues: For individuals with severe dissociation, EMDR therapy may need to be approached cautiously and with additional support in place. Dissociation can be a coping mechanism for overwhelming trauma, and processing those memories too quickly can be destabilizing. A therapist can help develop skills for managing dissociation before delving into traumatic memories with EMDR.

It’s important to consult with a qualified mental health professional to determine if EMDR therapy is the right approach for you. They can assess your individual needs and develop a treatment plan that is safe and effective.

When Should EMDR Not Be Used?

There are some situations where EMDR therapy may not be recommended. These include:

  • Unstable Medical Conditions: Individuals with uncontrolled medical conditions, such as severe heart disease or epilepsy, may need to address those concerns before starting EMDR therapy. The emotional intensity of EMDR could potentially exacerbate certain medical conditions.
  • Substance Abuse Issues: Active substance abuse can interfere with the effectiveness of EMDR therapy. Substance use can hinder a person’s ability to fully engage in the therapeutic process. It’s often recommended to address substance use concerns before starting EMDR therapy.
  • Lack of Safety Planning: If a person is still in danger or at risk of experiencing further trauma, EMDR therapy may not be the most appropriate intervention. Establishing safety and stability is crucial before delving into past traumas. A therapist can help develop a safety plan and coping mechanisms before beginning EMDR.

Why is EMDR So Controversial?

Despite its growing body of research supporting its effectiveness, EMDR therapy still faces some controversy.  

Here are some reasons why:

  • Lack of Understanding of How it Works: The exact mechanisms by which EMDR therapy works are still not fully understood. While research suggests it is effective, there is still ongoing investigation into the neurological processes at play. This lack of a clear scientific explanation can lead to skepticism from some in the mental health field.
  • Placebo Effect Concerns: Some critics argue that the benefits of EMDR therapy could be due to a placebo effect. However, research studies often involve control groups that do not receive eye movements or other bilateral stimulation, yet still show significant improvements for those receiving EMDR therapy. This suggests the benefits go beyond placebo.
  • Focus on Eye Movements: The use of eye movements in EMDR therapy can be a source of curiosity and even skepticism. However, it’s important to remember that eye movements are just one component of the therapy, and the true focus is on processing the traumatic memory. The bilateral stimulation is thought to help facilitate this processing, but it can be done through other means as well, such as tapping or tones.

Therapist-Client Relationship is Key

EMDR therapy is not a self-help technique. It should only be conducted by a trained and certified therapist who can provide a safe and supportive environment for exploring potentially disturbing memories. 

The therapeutic relationship is crucial for the success of EMDR. A skilled therapist will guide the client through the process gently, ensuring they feel safe and in control throughout the experience.

EMDR Therapy is Not a Quick Fix

While EMDR can be a powerful tool for healing, it’s important to have realistic expectations. It is not a quick fix, and the number of sessions required can vary depending on the individual and the complexity of the trauma. 

Some people may experience significant relief after just a few sessions, while others may need more time to process their experiences.

Finding an EMDR Therapist

If you’re interested in exploring EMDR therapy, it’s important to find a qualified therapist who is trained and experienced in this approach. You can ask your doctor for a referral or search online directories of EMDR therapists in your area. 

The EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) also offers a therapist finder tool on their website (


EMDR therapy offers a unique and effective approach to healing from trauma. While it may not be suitable for everyone, it has the potential to significantly improve the lives of those struggling with the effects of past experiences.  

If you’re considering EMDR therapy,  consult with a qualified mental health professional to discuss your individual needs and determine if this approach could be right for you. 

Remember, healing from trauma is a journey, and EMDR therapy can be a powerful tool on that path. 

By addressing past traumas and developing healthier coping mechanisms, you can build a brighter and more fulfilling future.


Empowered Therapy is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and trauma informed care for individuals and couples in Chicago and the surrounding area.

Learn more about our therapists and
specialties here. 

Follow the link below if you’re ready to start therapy and get back to you.