Dangers Of EMDR Therapy

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma can be effectively treated using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. By enabling patients to process and integrate traumatic memories, EMDR therapy aims to reduce the emotional impact of these experiences. However, as with any therapeutic intervention, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential dangers and risks associated with EMDR therapy.

This comprehensive guide seeks to provide an in-depth understanding of the dangers of EMDR therapy, highlighting the importance of informed decision-making for both patients and therapists. Through this exploration, we aim to equip readers with the knowledge necessary to navigate the complexities of EMDR therapy safely and effectively.

What is EMDR therapy?

an image of EMDR therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. It is designed to help individuals process and recover from traumatic experiences and other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Key Components of EMDR Therapy:

1. Bilateral Stimulation: EMDR therapy uses bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements, to stimulate the brain. This is believed to mimic the psychological state of REM sleep, which is associated with processing memories and emotions.

2. Targeted Memories: The therapy focuses on specific traumatic memories or disturbing negative thoughts only. The goal is to desensitize the individual to the emotional impact of these memories.

3. Reprocessing: EMDR therapy aims to help the individual reprocess traumatic memories, changing the way they are stored in the brain. This can lead to a reduction in the intensity of the emotional response to these memories.

Phases of EMDR Therapy:

1. History Taking and Treatment Planning: The therapist determines the target memories for treatment by learning about the patient's past.

2. Preparation: The therapist explains the full EMDR treatment process and establishes a trusting relationship with the individual.

3. Assessment: The individual identifies a specific target memory and the negative beliefs and negative emotions associated with it.

4. Desensitization: The therapist guides the individual through bilateral stimulation while the individual focuses on the target memory.

5. Installation: The individual is encouraged to focus on a positive belief to replace the negative belief associated with the traumatic memory.

6. Body Scan: The individual is asked to notice any psychological and physical symptoms or sensations associated with the memory and the positive belief.

7. Closure: The session ends with the individual returning to a state of equilibrium.

8. Reevaluation: At the beginning of the next session, the therapist and individual assess the progress made and decide on the next steps.

Conditions Treated with EMDR Therapy:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Depression

  • Phobias

  • Chronic pain

  • Eating disorders

EMDR therapy has been extensively researched and is considered an effective treatment for trauma and PTSD. However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and ensure that the therapy is conducted by a trained and experienced therapist.

The Benefits of EMDR Therapy

an image of a happy man

The efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in treating trauma and associated mental health symptoms and conditions has come to light. Here are some of the key benefits associated with EMDR therapy:

1. Quick Results: Unlike traditional talk therapy, which can take months or even years, EMDR therapy often produces results in a shorter time frame. Many individuals report significant improvements after just a few sessions.

2. Addresses Root Causes: EMDR therapy focuses on processing and resolving the underlying traumatic memories, rather than just managing symptoms. This can lead to long-lasting positive changes.

3. Non-invasive: EMDR therapy does not involve medication or physical interventions, making it a non-invasive option for individuals who prefer psychotherapeutic approaches.

4. Reduced Reliance on Medication: By addressing the root causes of mental health issues, EMDR therapy can reduce the need for psychiatric medication in some individuals.

5. Effective for Various Conditions: EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective not only for PTSD but also for anxiety, depression, phobias, and other mental health conditions.

6. Enhanced Emotional Regulation: Individuals undergoing EMDR therapy often report improved emotional regulation and coping skills.

7. Promotes Healing: By reprocessing traumatic memories, EMDR therapy facilitates psychological healing and allows individuals to move forward in their lives.

8. Empowering: EMDR therapy can be empowering for individuals, as it enables them to process and overcome traumatic or adverse life experiences that may have previously felt insurmountable.

Success Stories and Statistical Data:

Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of EMDR therapy. For example, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that EMDR therapy was effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD, with effects comparable to those of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Personal success stories also highlight the transformative impact of EMDR therapy. Many individuals report experiencing a profound sense of relief and a newfound ability to cope with past traumas after undergoing EMDR therapy.

In summary, EMDR therapy offers a range of benefits for individuals struggling with trauma and related mental health issues. Its ability to produce quick results and address the root causes of psychological distress makes it a valuable tool in the field of psychotherapy.

Potential Dangers and Risks of EMDR Therapy

an image of a man undergoing therapy.

While EMDR therapy has proven to be a beneficial treatment for many, it's important to recognize that it is not without its risks. Understanding these potential dangers is crucial for both patients and therapists to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the treatment.

Why It's Important to Understand the Risks:

1. Informed Consent: Patients have the right to be fully informed about the potential risks and benefits of any treatment they undergo.

2. Safety: Recognizing and addressing potential dangers can prevent harm to the patient.

3. Therapeutic Effectiveness: Being aware of the risks allows therapists to take precautions and modify the treatment if necessary to enhance its effectiveness.

4. Ethical Practice: Ethical guidelines in psychotherapy emphasize the importance of minimizing harm and maximizing benefits for patients.

5. Individual Differences: Not all individuals respond to EMDR therapy in the same way. Understanding the risks can help identify those who may be more susceptible to negative effects.

It's important to note that while there are potential risks, they are generally considered to be low compared to the potential benefits for those struggling with trauma and other psychological issues. The key is to approach EMDR therapy with caution, ensuring that it is conducted by a trained and experienced therapist who can navigate and mitigate these risks effectively.

Emotional and Psychological Side Effects

an image of a woman with anxiety.

While EMDR therapy is generally considered safe, it can sometimes lead to emotional and psychological side effects. These are typically temporary and part of the healing process, but they can be distressing for some individuals.

1. Emotional Overwhelm: The process of revisiting and reprocessing traumatic memories can be emotionally overwhelming. Patients may experience intense feelings of sadness, anger, fear, panic disorder or grief during or after a session.

2. Increased Distress: In some cases, EMDR therapy can temporarily exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, depression, or PTSD. This is often a part of the healing process, as the brain works through traumatic memories.

3. Temporary Worsening of Symptoms: As the brain reprocesses traumatic memories, some individuals may notice a temporary worsening of their symptoms. This is usually short-lived and followed by improvement.

4. Risks of Retraumatization: There is a risk of retraumatization if the therapy is not conducted properly or if the patient is not adequately prepared for the emotional intensity of the process.

5. Dissociation: Some individuals may experience dissociation during their EMDR sessions or therapy. This can include feeling detached from oneself or one's surroundings.

6. Vivid Dreams or Nightmares: The process of reprocessing memories can sometimes lead to vivid dreams or nightmares related to the traumatic event.

7. Changes in Memory: EMDR therapy can lead to changes in the way memories are stored, which can be disorienting for some individuals.

Managing Emotional and Psychological Side Effects:

  • Therapist Support: A skilled EMDR therapist can provide support and guidance to help manage emotional overwhelm and other side effects.

  • Grounding Techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and grounding exercises can help individuals cope with intense emotions during and after therapy.

  • Pacing: The therapist can pace the therapy to ensure that the patient is not overwhelmed by the emotional intensity of the process.

  • Aftercare: Patients should have a plan for self-care and support after each session to help manage any emotional side effects.

It's important for patients to discuss any concerns or side effects with their therapist, who can adjust the treatment approach as needed to ensure a safe and effective therapeutic experience.

Physical Side Effects

an image of a woman experiencing nausea.

In addition to emotional and psychological side effects, some individuals may experience physical reactions during or after EMDR therapy sessions. These physical side effects are usually temporary and can be managed with proper care.

1. Nausea and Dizziness: The intense emotional processing during EMDR therapy can sometimes lead to feelings of nausea or dizziness.

2. Headaches and Fatigue: The mental effort involved in reprocessing traumatic memories can result in headaches or a sense of fatigue after a session.

3. Sleep Disturbances: As the brain continues to process memories, some individuals may experience changes in their sleep patterns, including difficulty falling asleep or disrupted sleep.

4. Muscle Tension: The emotional stress of revisiting traumatic events can lead to muscle tension, particularly in the shoulders, neck, and back.

5. Changes in Appetite: Emotional processing can affect appetite, leading to either an increase or decrease in hunger.

6. Physical Sensations: Some individuals may experience physical sensations related to their traumatic memories, such as tightness in the chest or a feeling of heaviness.

7. Sensitivity to Light and Sound: During the reprocessing phase, some people may become more sensitive to light and sound.

Managing Physical Side Effects:

  • Self-Care: Engaging in self-care activities, such as taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques, or engaging in gentle exercise, can help alleviate physical side effects.

  • Hydration: Staying hydrated is important, especially if experiencing nausea or dizziness.

  • Rest: Allowing for rest and relaxation after therapy sessions can help the body recover from the physical and emotional exertion.

  • Mindful Breathing: Deep, mindful breathing can help reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation.

  • Seek Medical Advice: If physical side effects persist or are severe, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional.

It's important for individuals undergoing EMDR therapy to communicate any physical side effects to their therapist, who can provide guidance and adjust the therapy as needed to ensure comfort and safety.

Contraindications and Precautions

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While EMDR therapy is beneficial for many individuals, there are certain conditions and situations where it may not be suitable or may require special precautions.


1. Severe Mental Health Disorders: Individuals with certain severe mental health disorders, such as psychosis or dissociative identity disorder, may not be suitable candidates for EMDR therapy.

2. Unstable Conditions: EMDR therapy may not be recommended for individuals with unstable medical conditions or those who are currently experiencing severe life stressors.

3. Substance Abuse: Active substance abuse or addiction can interfere with the effectiveness of EMDR therapy and may increase the risk of negative side effects.

4. Lack of Support System: Individuals without a stable support system may find it challenging to cope with the emotional intensity of EMDR therapy.

5. Recent Trauma: EMDR therapy may not be appropriate for individuals who have recently experienced a traumatic event and have not had time to stabilize.


1. Thorough Assessment: A comprehensive assessment by a qualified therapist is essential to determining the suitability of EMDR therapy for an individual.

2. Preparation Phase: Adequate preparation, including establishing safety and coping strategies, is crucial before proceeding with the reprocessing therapy phases of EMDR therapy.

3. Monitoring: Close monitoring by the therapist during and after sessions is necessary to manage any adverse reactions or side effects.

4. Pacing: The therapy should be paced according to the individual's ability to tolerate emotional and psychological stress.

5. Collaboration with Other Professionals: In some cases, collaboration with other healthcare professionals, such as psychiatrists or medical doctors, may be necessary to ensure comprehensive care.

Importance of a Qualified Therapist:

It is essential that EMDR therapy is conducted by a trained and experienced therapist who can identify contraindications, take appropriate precautions, and provide a safe and supportive environment for the individual. A qualified therapist can also modify the treatment approach as needed to accommodate the specific needs and circumstances of the individual.

The Role of the Therapist

an image of a woman undergoing therapy.

The therapist plays a crucial role in the success and safety of EMDR therapy. Their responsibilities extend beyond simply guiding the patient through the therapy sessions; they must also ensure that the therapy is conducted in a manner that minimizes risks and maximizes benefits.

Key Responsibilities of an EMDR Therapist:

1. Assessment and Screening: The therapist must conduct a thorough assessment to determine the suitability of EMDR therapy for the individual. This includes evaluating the patient's mental health history, current symptoms, and readiness for therapy.

2. Preparation: Before beginning the reprocessing phases of EMDR therapy, the therapist must prepare the patient. This includes establishing trust, teaching coping strategies, and ensuring that the patient has a stable support system.

3. Guidance: During EMDR therapy sessions, the therapist guides the patient through the process of recalling and reprocessing traumatic memories. They must do so in a way that is supportive and respectful of the patient's pace and emotional capacity.

4. Monitoring: The therapist must closely monitor the patient's reactions during and after sessions. This includes watching for signs of distress, dissociation, or other adverse effects.

5. Adaptation: If the patient experiences significant distress or if therapy is not progressing as expected, the therapist may need to adapt the treatment approach. This could involve adjusting the pace of therapy, revisiting the preparation phase, or incorporating additional therapeutic techniques.

6. Support: The therapist provides emotional support throughout the therapy process. They should be available to address any concerns or questions the patient may have.

7. Ethical Practice: The therapist must adhere to ethical guidelines, including maintaining confidentiality, ensuring informed consent, and acting in the best interest of the patient.

8. Continuing Education: EMDR therapy is a specialized field, and therapists should engage in ongoing training and supervision to stay up-to-date with the latest research and best practices.

Qualifications of an EMDR Therapist:

To practice EMDR therapy, a therapist must have:

  • A professional license in a mental health field (such as psychology, counseling, or social work)

  • Completed specific training in EMDR therapy from an accredited organization

  • Experience in treating trauma and related mental health conditions

Working with a qualified and experienced EMDR therapist is essential to ensure that the therapy is conducted safely and effectively.

Navigating the Risks of EMDR Therapy

an image of 2 woman holding hands together.

While EMDR therapy is generally safe and effective, it is important for both patients and therapists to be aware of the potential risks and take steps to navigate them safely. Here are some strategies for minimizing risks and ensuring a positive therapy experience:

1. Proper Screening and Assessment:

  • A thorough assessment should be conducted before starting EMDR therapy to identify any contraindications or factors that may increase the risk of adverse effects.

2. Adequate Preparation:

  • Patients should be adequately prepared for the therapy process, including building a strong therapeutic alliance and learning coping strategies to manage emotional distress.

3. Pacing the Therapy:

  • The therapy should be paced according to the patient's ability to tolerate and process emotional material. Rushing the process can increase the risk of overwhelm and retraumatization.

4. Monitoring and Support:

  • The therapist should closely monitor the patient's responses during and after sessions and provide support as needed. This includes checking in on the patient's emotional state and adjusting the therapy approach if necessary.

5. Ensuring a Safe Environment:

  • The therapy sessions should be conducted in a safe and comfortable environment where the patient feels secure and supported.

6. Collaboration with Other Professionals:

  • If the patient has complex mental health needs, collaboration with other healthcare professionals (such as psychiatrists or medical doctors) may be necessary to provide comprehensive care.

7. Self-Care for Patients:

  • Patients should engage in self-care activities outside of therapy sessions to support their emotional well-being. This can include relaxation techniques, physical exercise, and social support.

8. Ongoing Training for Therapists:

  • Therapists should engage in ongoing training and supervision to stay up-to-date with best practices and ensure that they are providing effective and safe therapy.

By taking these precautions, the risks associated with EMDR therapy can be minimized, allowing patients to experience the benefits of this powerful treatment for trauma and related mental health conditions.

Alternatives to EMDR Therapy

While EMDR therapy is a highly effective treatment for many individuals, it is not the only option for addressing trauma and related mental health issues. There are several other therapeutic approaches that can be considered, each with its own set of benefits and considerations.

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

  • Description: CBT is a widely used form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.

  • Benefits: CBT is effective for a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It is a structured and time-limited approach that can provide quick results.

  • Considerations: CBT requires active participation and homework outside of therapy sessions. It may not be suitable for individuals who have difficulty engaging in cognitive exercises.

2. Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET):

  • Description: PET is a specific type of CBT that involves gradually exposing the individual to trauma-related stimuli to reduce fear and avoidance.

  • Benefits: PET is particularly effective for treating PTSD and has a strong evidence base supporting its efficacy.

  • Considerations: PET can be emotionally challenging, as it involves confronting traumatic memories. It is important to have a skilled therapist who can provide support and guidance.

3. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT):

  • Description: TF-CBT is a modified form of CBT that is specifically designed for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma.

  • Benefits: TF-CBT is effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety in children and adolescents. It also involves caregivers in the therapy process.

  • Considerations: TF-CBT is primarily used for children and adolescents, so it may not be suitable for adults.

4. Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET):

  • Description: NET is a short-term therapy that helps individuals reconstruct the narrative of their traumatic experiences in a coherent and meaningful way.

  • Benefits: NET is particularly effective for individuals who have experienced multiple traumas, such as refugees and survivors of war or natural disasters.

  • Considerations: NET requires the individual to revisit and narrate traumatic memories, which can be emotionally challenging.

5. Psychodynamic Therapy:

  • Description: Psychodynamic therapy explores the influence of past experiences and unconscious processes on current behavior and emotions.

  • Benefits: Psychodynamic therapy can provide deep insights into the root causes of emotional distress and can lead to long-term personal growth.

  • Considerations: This therapy is typically longer-term and may require a significant time commitment.

6. Group Therapy:

  • Description: Group therapy involves therapy sessions with multiple participants, often led by one or more therapists.

  • Benefits: Group therapy can provide a sense of community and support from others who have had similar experiences.

  • Considerations: Some individuals may feel uncomfortable sharing their experiences in a group setting.

It is important to discuss the various treatment options with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate approach based on the individual's specific needs and circumstances.

Exploring Red Light Therapy as an Alternative

an image of a woman using KOZE S Series

Red Light Therapy (RLT), also known as low-level laser therapy or photobiomodulation, is a non-invasive treatment that uses specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to promote healing and alleviate various health conditions. While it is primarily known for its benefits in skin health and wound healing, emerging research suggests that RLT may also have potential applications in mental health, particularly in the context of trauma and stress-related disorders.

How Red Light Therapy Works:

a man using KOZE X Series (Black)
  • RLT works by delivering low-level red and near-infrared light to the body's tissues, which is absorbed by the mitochondria in cells. This process stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of cells, leading to enhanced cellular function and regeneration.

  • In the context of mental health, RLT is believed to have neuroprotective and neuroregenerative effects. It may help reduce inflammation in the brain, improve blood flow, and stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, all of which can contribute to improved mood and cognitive function.

Potential Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Mental Health:

an image of a woman using KOZE™ Mini

1. Stress Reduction: RLT may help reduce stress by promoting relaxation and reducing cortisol levels, the body's primary stress hormone.

2. Mood Improvement: Preliminary studies suggest that RLT may have antidepressant effects and could be beneficial in improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression.

3. Sleep Enhancement: RLT may help regulate circadian rhythms and improve sleep quality, which is often disrupted in individuals with trauma and stress-related disorders.

4. Cognitive Function: There is emerging evidence that RLT may enhance cognitive function, including memory and attention, which can be affected by trauma and by posttraumatic stress disorder.

5. Pain Relief: RLT is known for its analgesic effects, which can be beneficial for individuals experiencing chronic pain associated with trauma.

Considerations and Precautions:

  • While RLT is generally considered safe, it is important to use the therapy under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional, especially when using it for mental health purposes.

  • The effectiveness of RLT for mental health conditions is still being researched, and it should not be used as a replacement for traditional therapies but rather as a complementary approach.

  • Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as photosensitivity disorders or those taking photosensitizing medications, should consult with a healthcare professional before using RLT.

In summary, Red Light Therapy is a promising alternative or complementary treatment for individuals seeking non-invasive and drug-free options for managing stress, improving mood, and enhancing overall mental well-being. However, more research is needed to fully understand its efficacy and optimal application in the context of mental health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can EMDR therapy cause harm?

While EMDR therapy is generally safe, it can cause emotional and physical side effects such as increased distress, headaches, and sleep disturbances. It is important to work with a qualified therapist who can minimize these risks.

Who should avoid EMDR therapy?

Individuals with certain conditions, such as severe mental health disorders, active substance abuse, or recent trauma, may need to avoid or take special precautions with EMDR therapy. A thorough assessment by a qualified therapist can determine suitability.

How can I find a qualified EMDR therapist?

You can find a qualified EMDR therapist through professional organizations such as the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) or by asking for referrals from healthcare professionals.

What is red light therapy, and how can it help with trauma?

Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses red and near-infrared light to promote healing. While primarily known for its physical health benefits, emerging research suggests it may also help reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance cognitive function, making it a potential complementary treatment for trauma and stress-related disorders.


In conclusion, EMDR therapy is a powerful and effective treatment for trauma and related mental health conditions. However, like any therapeutic intervention, it is not without its potential dangers and risks. It is crucial for both patients and therapists to be aware of these risks and take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the therapy.

While EMDR therapy has helped many individuals heal from the wounds of trauma, it is not the only option available. Alternatives such as cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, and Red Light Therapy offer different approaches to addressing trauma and its associated symptoms. Each individual's journey to healing is unique, and finding the right therapy is a personal decision that should be made in consultation with a qualified mental health professional.

As research continues to evolve, our understanding of trauma and the best ways to treat it will undoubtedly grow. For those seeking relief from physical symptoms stemming from the pain of traumatic experiences, there is hope in the form of various therapeutic approaches, including EMDR therapy. By being informed about the potential dangers and benefits of these treatments, individuals can make empowered choices on their path to recovery.