Donna Morgan Counselling, Shere Lane, Guildford, England, GU5, United Kingdom

BlogWhy is EMDR So Controversial?

Why is EMDR So Controversial?

Why is EMDR So Controversial?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy technique designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Despite its growing popularity and recognition by health organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Psychological Association (APA), EMDR remains a subject of controversy. This blog aims to explore the reasons behind the debate surrounding EMDR, delving into the scientific, ethical and practical concerns that fuel this ongoing discussion.

Background of EMDR Therapy

EMDR was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. Initially intended to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it has since been applied to a wide range of psychological issues. EMDR gained early recognition and support from various health organisations, due to its reported success in treating trauma. The therapy involves using bilateral stimulation, such as guided eye movements, to help patients reprocess traumatic memories, thereby reducing their emotional impact.

Scientific Support and Scepticism

Overview of Research Studies Supporting EMDR

Numerous studies have documented the effectiveness of EMDR in treating PTSD and other conditions. Research indicates that many patients experience significant improvements in their symptoms after EMDR therapy. These positive outcomes have led to its endorsement by reputable organisations and its inclusion in treatment guidelines for trauma.

As a therapist, I acknowledge that the scientific community remains divided over the robustness of the evidence supporting EMDR. Critics often point out several methodological concerns. For instance, some studies have small sample sizes, limiting the generalisability of their findings. Additionally, the lack of adequate control groups in some research makes it difficult to attribute improvements solely to EMDR. Concerns about researcher bias and the reproducibility of results also persist, prompting ongoing discussions about the reliability of positive findings.

Support and Success Stories

Despite these debates, many therapists, including myself, have witnessed substantial success in treating patients with trauma, anxiety and other mental health issues using EMDR. Proponents often cite anecdotal evidence and case studies showcasing its positive clinical outcomes. These success stories contribute to the strong support for EMDR within certain professional circles, highlighting its potential as an effective therapeutic approach.

The Benefits of EMDR Therapy

EMDR has demonstrated significant benefits for many individuals, often leading to rapid symptom relief in fewer sessions compared to traditional therapies. This is particularly effective for those who have not responded well to other treatments, providing a valuable alternative for trauma recovery. Beyond symptom relief, patients often report improved emotional regulation, increased self-esteem and better overall mental health, enhancing their quality of life and contributing to long-term recovery.

The Role of Eye Movements and Bilateral Stimulation

Bilateral stimulation, including eye movements, taps and auditory tones, is a core component of EMDR. It is believed to mimic the natural processing mechanisms of REM sleep, aiding in the reprocessing of traumatic memories. While there is some controversy over whether eye movements are necessary for EMDR’s effectiveness, studies suggest that the therapeutic benefits of EMDR may occur regardless of the specific type of bilateral stimulation used. This highlights the adaptability of EMDR and its potential for various clinical applications.

Alternative Explanations for EMDR’s Success

Alternative explanations propose that EMDR’s success may be due to factors common to many therapies, such as the therapeutic alliance between patient and therapist, rather than the unique aspects of EMDR itself.

Ethical and Practical Considerations

Ethical Considerations in Promoting and Using EMDR

Promoting EMDR ethically involves ensuring patients are fully informed about the therapy, its potential benefits and any risks. Transparency and informed consent are critical, allowing patients to make educated decisions about their treatment. Ethical practice also means providing a balanced view of what EMDR can achieve without overpromising outcomes.

Practical Challenges in EMDR Training and Certification

The rigorous training and certification process for EMDR ensures high standards of practice but can be costly and time-consuming, potentially limiting accessibility. Efforts to make training more affordable and widely available can help increase the number of competent practitioners, thereby broadening access to this effective therapy.

Accessibility and Cost Issues

While EMDR therapy can be transformative, the cost and availability of trained practitioners can be barriers for many. Initiatives to reduce costs and improve accessibility are essential to ensure that more individuals can benefit from EMDR, enhancing its positive impact on mental health.

Personal Experiences and Testimonies

Positive Patient Testimonials

Many patients report significant improvements in trauma symptoms and overall well-being after EMDR therapy. These positive testimonials highlight the potential for profound changes and the effectiveness of EMDR in promoting mental health.

Negative Experiences and Reports of Harm

There are also accounts of negative experiences, emphasising the importance of proper therapist training and careful application of EMDR. Ensuring that practitioners are well-trained can minimise risks and maximise the therapy’s benefits.

The Impact of Personal Bias and Perception in Therapy Outcomes

Personal biases and patient expectations can influence therapy outcomes, sometimes complicating the evaluation of EMDR’s true efficacy. Understanding these factors is crucial for both therapists and patients to ensure realistic expectations and effective treatment.

Media and Public Perception

How Media Portrayal Influences Public Opinion on EMDR

Media portrayals significantly shape public opinion on EMDR. Balanced and accurate reporting can help people understand the therapy’s potential benefits and limitations, while sensationalised stories can lead to misunderstandings.

Examples of Sensationalism and Misinformation

Instances of sensationalism in media coverage can exaggerate EMDR’s benefits or downplay its risks, leading to skewed public perceptions. It’s important to seek out reliable sources for accurate information about EMDR.

The Role of Social Media in Spreading Controversy

Social media amplifies both positive and negative views on EMDR, contributing to public controversy. Promoting balanced and well-informed discussions on these platforms can help ensure a more accurate understanding of the therapy.


EMDR is an incredibly effective therapy that has yielded remarkable results for many individuals, particularly those suffering from trauma. Patients often report rapid symptom relief, improved emotional regulation, increased self-esteem and overall better mental health.

These positive changes can significantly enhance the quality of life and contribute to long-term recovery. By providing a comprehensive and balanced approach to mental health care, EMDR offers hope and healing to those in need. For anyone considering EMDR, consulting with trained professionals and seeking information from reliable sources will ensure the best possible outcomes and a transformative therapeutic experience.