Dangers of EMDR Therapy: What You Need to Know

Dangers of EMDR Therapy

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of therapy that has gained popularity in recent years. This therapy is used to treat a range of mental health conditions, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. EMDR therapy reprocesses traumatic events using rapid eye movements, sounds, or taps. While EMDR therapy has proven effective for many patients, there are some dangers and risks associated with it. In this article, we will explore the dangers of EMDR therapy and what you need to know before considering this type of treatment.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy was developed in the late 1980s by Francine Shapiro, a psychologist who observed that eye movements could reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts. This therapy is based on the idea that traumatic experiences can be stored in the brain’s unprocessed form and can lead to psychological distress.

EMDR therapy is typically used to treat PTSD but has also been used for other conditions such as anxiety, depression, phobias, and addiction. It is a relatively short-term therapy; some patients feel relief after just a few sessions.

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

EMDR therapy involves eight phases, each of which has a specific goal. The first phase consists in gathering information about the patient’s history and identifying the specific traumatic events that need to be processed. The therapist then guides the patient through eye movements, sounds, or taps, while asking the patient to focus on the traumatic event.

The eye movements, sounds, or taps are thought to stimulate the brain’s natural healing processes, allowing the patient to process the traumatic event in a safe and controlled environment. The therapist then helps the patient reframe the traumatic event more positively and develop coping strategies for dealing with future triggers.

The Potential Dangers of EMDR Therapy

While EMDR therapy has proven effective for many patients, some potential dangers are associated with it. These dangers include:

Triggering Trauma

During EMDR therapy, the patient may be asked to recall traumatic events and focus on them while undergoing eye movements, sounds, or taps. This can be highly distressing for some patients and trigger intense emotional and physical reactions.

False Memories

EMDR therapy can sometimes lead to the creation of false memories. This can occur when the therapist suggests details or events that did not happen, leading the patient to believe they are true.

Lack of Control

During EMDR therapy, patients may lack control over their thoughts and emotions. This can be incredibly distressing for patients who have experienced trauma, as it can feel like re-traumatization.


The eye movements, sounds, or taps used in EMDR therapy can be overstimulating for some patients, leading to feelings of anxiety, agitation, or panic.


EMDR therapy is unsuitable for everyone and may not be the best treatment option for some patients. If EMDR therapy is used to treat an impractical condition, it can lead to misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment.

Risks and Side Effects of EMDR

In addition to the potential dangers, EMDR therapy can have some side effects and risks. These include:

Increased Anxiety

Some patients may experience increased anxiety during or after EMDR therapy. This can be due to the intensity of the treatment or the nature of the traumatic events being processed.

Physical Discomfort

The eye movements, sounds, or taps used in EMDR therapy can sometimes cause physical discomforts, such as headaches, eye strain, or muscle tension.

Temporary Worsening of Symptoms

In some cases, EMDR therapy can temporarily worsen symptoms before they improve. This can be due to the nature of the treatment or the intensity of the traumatic memories being processed.

Negative Emotions

During EMDR therapy, patients may experience negative emotions, such as fear, anger, or sadness, as they process traumatic events. This can be distressing for some patients and lead to further psychological distress.

Interference with Medications

EMDR therapy can sometimes interfere with medications, especially those used to treat anxiety or depression. Patients should inform their therapists about their medicines before starting EMDR therapy.

Who Should Not Consider EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy may not be suitable for everyone. Patients with certain medical or mental health conditions may need to avoid this therapy. These conditions include:

  • Psychotic disorders
  • Severe dissociative disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy or migraines
  • Suicidal ideation or attempts

Patients should consult with their healthcare provider and EMDR therapist to determine if this therapy is appropriate.

Alternatives to EMDR Therapy

Several alternative treatments for PTSD and other mental health conditions do not involve EMDR therapy. These include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Exposure therapy
  • Mindfulness-based therapies
  • Medications, such as antidepressants or antianxiety medications

Patients should discuss the best treatment options with their healthcare provider and mental health professional.

Finding a Qualified EMDR Therapist

If a patient decides to pursue EMDR therapy, finding a qualified and experienced therapist is essential. Some tips for finding a qualified EMDR therapist include:

  • Checking credentials and certifications
  • Asking for referrals from healthcare providers or mental health professionals
  • Checking online reviews and testimonials
  • Interviewing potential therapists to ensure they are a good fit

Questions to Ask Your EMDR Therapist

Before starting EMDR therapy, patients should ask their therapist several questions to ensure they understand the treatment and are comfortable with the therapist. Some questions to ask include:

  • What is your experience with EMDR therapy?
  • What are the potential risks and side effects of EMDR therapy?
  • How many sessions will I need?
  • What happens if I experience distress during treatment?
  • How will you monitor my progress?
  • What are my alternatives if EMDR therapy does not work for me?


EMDR therapy can effectively treat PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. However, this type of therapy has potential dangers, risks, and side effects. Patients should carefully consider these factors and consult with their healthcare provider and mental health professional before pursuing EMDR therapy.

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