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The Truth About the Risks of EMDR Therapy

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • EDMR is a type of therapy that helps people process trauma.
  • It works by employing rapid eye movements when recalling past events.
  • The movements help the brain deal with memories.
  • Some people have misconceptions about how this therapy works.

Healing from unprocessed trauma is hard work, but the results and rewards are worth it. Recalling harrowing memories is not appealing, and it’s easy to see how the practice may seem counterproductive, but it is in confronting those memories that real growth and healing happen. 

EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and other types of talk therapy can seem dangerous or frightening because patients face traumatic recollections, but the truth is that it’s the only path to emotional well-being. 

EMDR therapy may seem scary to some people because it is unusual. It employs eye movements to teach the brain how to normalize disturbing memories whenever they appear. 

Dr. Francine Shapiro introduced this therapy as a treatment for PTSD in the 1980s. It has picked up steam recently because of its efficacy in treating additional mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

Find out what EDMR therapy is and the risks involved – this guide explores the fundamentals of EMDR therapy and its side effects and dispels the myth that it’s dangerous and other misconceptions. 

EMDR Basics – How It Works

EMDR therapy proposes that stressful memories change the brain and stop it from processing information correctly, causing anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Healthcare professionals purport that remembering traumatic events while performing rapid eye movements helps the brain deal with the memories appropriately and integrate them into current life.

The eight phases of EMDR are:

  • History and treatment plan
  • Preparation
  • Assessment
  • Desensitization
  • Installation
  • Body scan
  • Closure
  • Reevaluation

The theory is that EDMR therapy loosens trapped problematic memories so that they may be processed and dismissed. It isn’t a simple process, however, and there are some common side effects.

Side Effects of EDMR Therapy

Most modalities of therapy are associated with a few side effects. Those of EDMR are few and short-lived. Understanding the possible side effects helps patients better prepare for the experience. The most common side effects are:


Headaches can occur after any deep-thinking session. It is caused by tension in the temples and neck as the person concentrates and verbalizes intense thoughts. Many people gnash their teeth or grind their jaws when focusing, which also causes headaches. 

Physical Reactions

Sweating, shaking, and even hiccups can all be reactions to or side effects of an EMDR session. Many patients cry and experience increased heart rate and muscle tension. Reliving a bad experience can bring up the same physical reactions that were present at the time. 


Rehashing old memories, especially when unpleasant, can keep you up at night. It isn’t a sign that the situation is worsening but that it is coming to a resolution.

Overwhelming Emotions

It’s only natural to feel intense emotions when recollecting unhappy and unpleasant moments. Sometimes it leaks into other parts of your day, and you find yourself emotional at unexpected times. It’s important to remind yourself that the feelings are temporary and only a remnant of the past.

Feeling Uncomfortable

There aren’t very many people who feel completely at ease when visiting a therapist’s office. It can be even more uncomfortable when confronting painful memories is imminent. Therapists employ various strategies to help patients feel more in control of and comfortable in the environment. 

These typical side effects are easily resolvable and quickly subside as therapy progresses. Many psychotherapy modalities have the same side effects, although they are sometimes misconstrued as something more dangerous.

Myths and Misconceptions

Myths and misconceptions abound when it comes to talk therapy of any kind. It’s difficult for people to express what’s going on in their personal lives, which makes it easy to vilify such therapies. The reality is that it isn’t any more dangerous than sitting down and talking with a close friend. 

The most common misconceptions about EDMR include the following:

It’s Dangerous

Many people believe rapid eye movements can cause problems. This is a myth. It doesn’t bring on an epileptic seizure or flashbacks of trauma. It only helps the brain process the incident.

It Makes Things Worse

Another popular myth is that EDMR makes the situation worse. People believe this because they may temporarily experience side effects. It can seem that the situation is worse if the standard way of dealing with problems is to avoid them because EDMR therapy faces them.

It Only Treats PTSD

Many people still believe that EDMR only treats PTSD. This is not so much a myth as it is outdated information. It was initially developed as a PTSD treatment but was later discovered to be helpful in many other mental health issues.

It implants False Memories

Some people believe that EMDR may implant false memories. This stems from the fact that many patients uncover forgotten memories during therapy. Those new memories are processed and integrated into the patient’s life. 

These mistaken beliefs will eventually clear away as more information about EDMR and its many uses is available.  

The bottom line is that EDMR isn’t dangerous and has no health risks. It is an effective method of facing debilitating mental issues and changing them into constructive parts of the past. 

Are you interested in learning more about EDMR?

EDMR can help anyone who wants to stop intrusive negative thoughts, process past events, or cope with current stressors. The Counseling Center Group™ can help you learn how to control your emotions and change your behaviors. We provide therapies for groups, couples, individuals, and families. 

We are dedicated to helping you live a life you love and committed to providing relatively short-term treatments to achieve positive, long-lasting results. Our therapists use structured, evidence-based methods to efficiently help you reach realistic goals. Contact us today to learn more about EMDR and other types of therapy

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