There are still all sorts of myths and misconceptions about EMDR! So, let’s get into the most common ones and see if there is any merit to them.
1. EMDR is like being hypnotized
I get asked a lot if EMDR is like hypnotism. There are a few similarities between hypnosis and EMDR, such as both utilize imagery, and both may make you feel relaxed and at ease. But the short answer is: No! With hypnotism, you are moving into an altered state of consciousness, and the present moment falls away – you become less aware of your surroundings. With EMDR, you maintain your connection with the present. You have one foot in the memory/in the past and one foot firmly in the present. As the therapist, I don’t want you going into some altered state of mind! Although that doesn’t happen with EMDR, it is possible to become dissociated or dysregulated during reprocessing. Your therapist should be able to help you through those responses in the moment.
2. EMDR will erase my memories
One of the prevailing myths is that EMDR has the power to erase memories. It seems scary to be going in and messing around with your memory! But in reality, EMDR does not eliminate memories – rather, your brain reprocesses the information, potentially changing its character. So, doing EMDR can alter the way you remember something, such as memories becoming more or less vivid, losing their emotional charge, or different details becoming more prominent. But your memories will never be erased, as the memory is still stored in your mind after reprocessing.
3. EMDR will make me remember something that didn’t happen (false memory)
EMDR is a process of desensitizing and metabolizing old memories – material that already exists. It cannot install other new information that was not already present in your mind. EMDR can bring forth forgotten memories or forgotten details of a memory, but again, that material already exists in your mind.
4. EMDR will make me feel worse
It’s true that previously buried things can come to the surface when you start doing EMDR – as is the case with any type of therapy. Unburying things can be painful. I think of mental health therapy similarly to physical therapy – it does hurt when you’re pressing on your sore muscles. And after you stretch and work out a sore spot, it feels so much better! So, EMDR can be emotionally painful in the moment, but in the long run, EMDR should not make you feel worse. If you are getting worse after a few months, you should talk with your therapist about what’s going on. It’s also important to note that there can be brief after-effects from EMDR, including vivid dreams, feeling up and down in your mood, or being sleepier than usual. These always dissipate after 24 hours or less.
5. EMDR is not evidence-based / backed by research
EMDR was invented in the 1990s, and so is a newer treatment compared to some other therapies. It has taken time for neuroscience and research to make enough progress to properly dispel this myth, but there have now been decades of research showing the effectiveness of EMDR for a variety of different mental and physical health issues.
6. EMDR is only for PTSD
EMDR originally started as a treatment only for PTSD. It has now been shown that EMDR can treat many different mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, panic disorder, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. EMDR has even been shown to be effective in treating physical pain. The whole idea behind EMDR is that maladaptively stored memories are what create symptoms – any and all symptoms of any mental health issue. Therefore, it can be adapted to treat almost any mental health issue.
And there you have it – the biggest myths about EMDR. I hope this helped clear up some misconceptions for you. Ask your therapist if you have any questions or concerns.
Van Schie, K., & Leer, A. (2019). Lateral eye movements do not increase false-memory rates: A failed direct-replication study. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(5), 1159-1167. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702619859335
Perlini, C., Donisi, V., Rossetti, M.G., Moltrasio, C., Bellani, M., & Brambilla, P. (2020). The potential role of EMDR on trauma in affective disorders: A narrative review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 269, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.03.001
Talbot, D. (2021). Examination of initial evidence for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, June 2021. DOI: 10.1891/EMDR-D-21-00004