Are There Dangers of EMDR Therapy?


One day in 1987, Francine Shapiro was taking a walk in a park when she realized that her distressing memories had diminished.

She hypothesized that it could have been the eye movements that led to the swift change in her emotional state.  


At the time, Shapiro was in the middle of earning an advanced degree in psychology and decided to test her hypothesis. 

She recruited individuals who had post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).   

Her results indicated that she was on to something.  


Since its inception, EMDR was a treatment for PTSD.  It has been proven to be a highly effective treatment modality for PTSD.  


However, over the last 40 years, its application for a wide variety of mental health issues has increased.


It has been proven to be a go-to treatment method for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias and social anxiety/phobia, depression.


It is recommended by the American Psychological Association (APA), World Health Organization (WHO), and the US Department of Veterans Affairs.


The video below is from the Veterans Health Administration and explains EMDR in detail.

Given its proven safety, why is it that only certified EMDR therapists are trained to use it?

While EMDR looks simple, there are actually 8 unique stages to it. 


Its slow and purposeful pace is for good reason. 


Often clients who utilize the therapy have experienced trauma in their lives.  


Victims of trauma should always be treated with extra care.  If the pace of therapy goes too quickly, it can be distressing and take an emotional toll.  


It is essential to follow the stages of EMDR to ensure ethical treatment.  


Additionally, skilled EMDR therapists have been trained to prepare you for the reprocessing of the problematic event/belief/behavior. 

Given that there aren’t dangers of EMDR, are there potential side effects?

Psychotherapy, in general, can create some uncomfortable emotions.  

Oftentimes, people have avoided addressing topics that keep them stuck.

The potential side effects/dangers of EMDR are not unique.  

Dangers of EMDR Therapy: Feeling uncomfortable

You meet a therapist and start disclosing information that you may have never discussed with anyone else. 


Uncomfortable?  Probably.   Healthy?  Probably.


At the start, it may feel awkward, embarrassing, and shameful. 


It will likely feel freeing too. 


The first few sessions of therapy will likely be the most uncomfortable.  


If you are a new client with a history of trauma, it may be uncomfortable for a while. 

If it is challenging to trust others, it makes sense that the feelings of discomfort linger for a while!

Remembering old memories

Old memories that have long since been filed away may come up.  


Sometimes, these memories are delightful relics of the past.  Other times, they can be very difficult to remember.  


Ultimately, you aren’t guaranteed that old stuff won’t come up… even if you don’t want it to.

Difficult emotions

You came to therapy to process your feelings. 


However, when difficult feelings arise, it can feel like you are lost at sea… especially if the emotions bleed out of the therapy session and cause your day/week to be less than ideal.  


While difficult emotions almost always feel like they are going to last forever, they never do.  Feelings come and go.  


Part of all therapy is increasing your awareness of difficult emotions and how to deal with them in the most effective way possible.

Dangers of EMDR Therapy: Body Sensations

How do you know when difficult emotions arise???

Your body tells you.

You can logic your way out of your feelings… for a second.

But your body tells the truth.

Your body lets you know when you are in a healthy place… not your mind.

If you become overwhelmed in EMDR therapy- or any therapy for that matter- let the therapist know that you need a break.

While I wish I could read minds, I can’t always tell that a person feels overwhelmed.  

It’s very helpful to let the therapist know if you are emotionally overwhelmed.

After all, you can’t process information when you are in a state of fight or flight. 

Dangers of EMDR Therapy: Emotional sensitivity

If you have just left the therapy room and processed something that is very difficult, you likely won’t have a lot of emotional bandwidth.  


That’s okay.  


Again, in therapy, you will gain the skills and self-awareness to give yourself some compassion when you feel emotionally raw and vulnerable.  


When you realize that you feel emotionally sensitive or wiped out, it is a great opportunity to use the skills that you are learning… and give yourself a break!

Hopefully, if you are thinking about EMDR, this article has answered some of your questions!

Free free to contact me directly if you have questions or to schedule a brief call to see if I might be able to support you as you journey forward.


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