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What are the Pros and Cons of EMDR for PTSD?

By Sarah Kay Moll
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic event. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment for PTSD developed by Francine Shapiro, a psychotherapist who works with patients suffering from PTSD. EMDR for PTSD is a widely used treatment. The pros of EMDR are generally considered to be its effectiveness and speed in treating PTSD, while the main cons are the traumatic memories and difficult emotions it may dredge up.

PTSD can be triggered by any traumatic event, and different people have different thresholds as far as what constitutes a trauma. Soldiers returning from war and people who have survived rape are two of the main populations of people affected with PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD include hyper vigilant symptoms such as being easily startled, anxiety, depression, and reliving the traumatic event through flashbacks or nightmares.

EMDR for PTSD works by having a person re-experience a trauma while also attending to an external stimulus that moves back and forth from the right to the left side of the body. Supporters of EMDR for PTSD claim that the eye movements from left to right during the reprocessing of the trauma are an important part of treatment. Some studies show, however, this type of re-experiencing trauma in a safe place with the guidance of a therapist is just as effective without the eye movements.

The pros and cons of EMDR may vary from person to person. EMDR is very effective for many people in relieving the symptoms of PTSD, and it can sometimes work on other anxiety disorders such as phobias. EMDR is also a relatively quick treatment, lasting for about 12 weeks, however, some people see improvement in symptoms as soon as two weeks after treatment begins.

EMDR for PTSD also has some drawbacks. During the course of EMDR, a person re-experiences the traumatic event that triggered the PTSD. This can be a stressful and emotionally charged process, although a therapist is present to help a person manage these emotions. The traumatic feelings may persist after a session is finished and interfere in other aspects of a person’s life.

It is unclear whether EMDR for PTSD is effective because of the eye movements it involves or simply because of the exposure to a traumatic event in a safe place with the guidance of a therapist. The eye movements have not been shown to be harmful in any way, however. Each person will need treatment for PTSD tailored to his specific needs, and consulting with a therapist can help a person evaluate the pros and cons of any treatment.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon249248 — On Feb 20, 2012

We are both walking casualties of childhood abuse, neglect, and headgaming.

I have Medicare, which won't cover EMDR, as far as I know. He has nothing but is in really dire need of help.

What can be done? I do not want to give up on this. In times like these stuff like this holds you back and you drown, unable to keep up with the world.

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