Can EMDR Therapy Make Things Worse? The [Dangers] of EMDR Therapy and Side Effects

woman sitting on black surface inside room with PTSD trauma

Can EMDR Therapy Make Things Worse?

EMDR therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years, but there are some risks associated with this treatment.

However, there is a small subset of people for whom EMDR can make things worse.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the dangers of EMDR therapy and some of the potential side effects

Can EMDR Therapy make things worse?

EMDR Therapy can make things worse by causing the person to relive the trauma and the associated negative emotions. This can be especially difficult for the person if they have been using avoidance strategies to cope with the traumatic event. For those with CPTSD, EMDR therapy can even be harmful in some cases because it can result in re-traumatization, which can worsen their symptoms instead of helping them heal.

1. EMDR Therapy can make things worse for certain people

While EMDR therapy can help some people process trauma and reduce negative emotions associated with it, it can also be emotionally intense and make certain people feel worse before they feel better. This is because when delving into a traumatic memory, strong emotions may manifest and the person may need to confront feelings that they have been avoiding.

For those who have been avoiding and minimizing their distress, it can be very uncomfortable to reflect on the trauma in EMDR. However, with the guidance of a mental health specialist, the individual can manage these emotions and begin the healing process. That is why it is utmost important not to do EMDR therapy on yourself if you feel you can not cope with the trauma.

2. EMDR Therapy can result in new traumas

EMDR Therapy can cause the patient to recall past traumas, which may result in the patient feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. This can lead to the patient experiencing new traumas, as the memories of past events can become more vivid or intense.

man in gray long sleeve shirt and black pants sitting on white floor tiles stressed

EMDR Therapy can also lead to a heightened sense of awareness, lightheadedness, or vivid dreams. These can be overwhelming for the patient and may result in the emergence of new traumas.

3. EMDR Therapy can cause the symptoms of PTSD to worsen

While some people may find that EMDR therapy helps them work through the trauma they experienced and can improve their symptoms, others may find that the process of revisiting the traumatic event can worsen their PTSD symptoms. This is because when a person revisits a traumatic memory, they may experience strong emotions and body sensations that were present during the initial traumatic event.

Therefore, it is important to discuss any concerns with your therapist before beginning EMDR Therapy. Additionally, if you find that your symptoms worsen after an EMDR session, it is important to contact your therapist immediately.

4. EMDR Therapy can cause other mental health problems to worsen

EMDR therapy can cause other mental health problems to worsen if the person is not in a good mental state or if their therapist is not competent. For example, if a person is in a severely depressed state and has suicidal thoughts, a non-competent therapist does not know how to deal with disturbing thoughts and overwhelming emotions. This can lead to an increase in symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and panic and can even interfere with the accuracy of memories. Additionally, reliving traumatic memories during EMDR processing can lead to temporary emotional exhaustion and resurfacing of additional traumatic memories.

5. EMDR Therapy can cause physical symptoms to worsen

Yes, EMDR therapy can cause physical symptoms to worsen. During the therapeutic process, the patient is asked to relive the trauma and this can cause strong emotions to surface, which can lead to physical reactions such as sweating, shaking, crying, muscle tension, or an increased heart rate. These are all normal reactions to trauma, but they can be difficult to manage. Additionally, some people may also experience headaches or fatigue after EMDR therapy sessions which can be exhausting.

6. EMDR Therapy can cause relationship problems to worsen

EMDR therapy can make things worse if the person is avoiding reliving the trauma associated with the memory. When the person is made aware of the emotions associated with the traumatic memory, they can be overwhelming and difficult to manage. It even can cause relationship issues to worsen which can lead to feelings of grief and loss. The person may feel more vulnerable to their emotions, which can be tiring.

7. EMDR Therapy can cause financial difficulties

EMDR therapy can cause financial difficulties due to the high cost of the therapy, as well as the cost of any additional resources and supports that may be needed during the therapeutic process.

The cost of the therapy, in addition to any possible side effects and extra resources, can add up and become overwhelming. Many insurance companies do not cover the cost of EMDR therapy, meaning that the patient would need to pay for it out of pocket. Therefore, it is important to weigh the potential costs of EMDR therapy before embarking on the journey.

What if I am feeling worse?

If you find yourself feeling worse after an EMDR therapy session, it is important to talk to your therapist about it. It is not uncommon for people to feel more distressed after processing their emotions and memories, as these have likely been repressed for a long time. Your therapist may suggest spending more time prepping before starting processing, or they may suggest revisiting some relaxation exercises to help manage your distress.

It may also be helpful to remember that feeling worse is a normal part of the healing process, and that eventually you should feel better than you did before.

What are the dangers of using EMDR therapy?

1. Potential for Trauma Re-Processing

EMDR therapy can potentially trigger trauma re-processing by allowing the client to access and confront the traumatic memories in a safe environment. Through this experience, the patient is better able to understand the source of their trauma and can begin to develop an understanding of why it has such a deep emotional impact. Furthermore, EMDR therapy utilizes techniques such as focusing on traumatic memories while also using a variety of tools to help the patient stay in a “window of tolerance” and regulate their nervous system. This allows them to reprocess the trauma without it becoming too intense or unmanageable. Additionally, the therapist will create a safe space to help the patient understand the source of their trauma and process their emotions in a healthy way. This helps the patient feel more empowered and in control of their emotions, allowing them to expand their window of tolerance and build better coping skills.

2. Risk of Retraumatization

The risk of retraumatization with EMDR therapy depends on how well the patient is prepared and the level of comfort they feel during the session. It is important to remember that EMDR is a therapeutic approach that seeks to reprocess trauma, so there is naturally the potential for the patient to experience uncomfortable symptoms as the trauma is being addressed. That said, the patient should be given the tools and resources to help them stay in the “window of tolerance,” so that the experience is not overly intense and unmanageable. Additionally, it is important for the patient to have someone to talk to, such as a therapist or support group, to help them feel comfortable and manage any discomfort that may arise. With the right preparation and support, patients can feel safe and secure during their EMDR sessions, limiting the risk of retraumatization.

3. Potentially Unsafe Protocols

What are potentially unsafe protocols for EMDR therapy?

  1. Using EMDR to process trauma when the patient is actively abusively using alcohol, drugs, or something to help them feel less.
  2. EMDR consist of 8 phases. Skipping phases 1 and 2 (safety and stabilization) and going straight to phase 3 (assessment and forward).
  3. Not communicating feelings of discomfort or unease to the therapist.
  4. Not taking the time to establish a safe, trusting relationship between patient and therapist.
  5. Trying to rush the therapy process.
  6. Not taking into account the possible risks and challenges of EMDR.
  7. Not having an open and honest dialogue with the therapist.

4. Potential for Unwanted Side Effects of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy can potentially have a number of side effects, including

  • surfacing of upsetting memories,
  • feeling emotionally sensitive and open after sessions,
  • intense dreams,
  • headaches or fatigue,
  • physical reactions such as sweating, shaking, crying during EMDR, muscle tension, or an increased heart rate,
  • trouble sleeping

It is important to note that these side effects are usually mild and temporary, however, it is important to be aware of them and to have the necessary coping skills and resources to help manage any difficult experiences or side effects that may arise.

5. Lack of Research

The lack of research about EMDR therapy is concerning, as evidenced by Pim Cuijpers’ analysis of nearly 80 studies on the topic. He found that the quality of the research was “really very bad,” with small sample sizes and potential bias in the research conducted. Furthermore, there are very few studies that demonstrate the efficacy of EMDR in the long-term, and there is not enough evidence to wholeheartedly endorse its use. There is also an ongoing investigation into whether EMDR increases a patient’s susceptibility to false memories, though it is too early to draw any firm conclusions.

Cuijpers P, Veen SCV, Sijbrandij M, Yoder W, Cristea IA. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for mental health problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cogn Behav Ther. 2020 May;49(3):165-180. doi: 10.1080/16506073.2019.1703801. Epub 2020 Feb 11. PMID: 32043428.

6. Unregulated Profession

The dangers of using EMDR Therapy when it is not regulated are numerous and should not be overlooked, as there is a lack of oversight and guidance without regulation. Without regulation, there is no assurance that the therapist is properly trained or qualified to administer EMDR therapy. This can lead to ineffective treatment, as well as the potential for causing further harm. Additionally, unregulated EMDR therapy may not be covered by insurance, leaving the patient responsible for the full cost of the treatment.

In contrast, EMDR Therapy that is regulated is more likely to be carried out safely and effectively, as the therapist is held to higher standards of professional practice. The therapist will likely have more experience with EMDR, as well as knowledge of the best practices for administering the therapy. Moreover, insurance is more likely to cover the cost of regulated EMDR Therapy, making the treatment more accessible to those who need it.

Overall, it is important to consider the potential dangers of using EMDR Therapy that is not regulated, as this could lead to ineffective treatment and potential harm. However, regulated EMDR Therapy is much more likely to be administered safely and effectively, making it the preferred option for those seeking treatment.

7. Risk of Therapist Bias

The risk of therapist bias can have a significant effect on the use of EMDR therapy. If a therapist is not open-minded or has preconceived notions on a patient’s condition, they may be more likely to overlook certain symptoms or behaviors, or they might be too quick to arrive at a diagnosis. This can lead to ineffective treatments, a lack of trust between the therapist and the patient, and a lack of progress in EMDR therapy. Furthermore, therapist bias can lead to an imbalance in power dynamics, which can also hinder the patient’s progress. To best combat this problem, it is important to have an open and honest dialogue about any concerns with the therapist. Additionally, it is important for the therapist to be open to clients expressing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns without judgment or criticism.

8 .Can EMDR trigger psychosis?

The short answer is no. EMDR therapy is a safe and effective method of treating various forms of trauma and mental illness, including PTSD and anxiety disorders, without inducing psychotic episodes. While some people may experience extreme emotions when undergoing EMDR therapy, it is not associated with the type of delusions and hallucinations characteristic of psychosis.

In fact, EMDR therapy has been proven to be beneficial for many conditions, such as PTSD, panic, depression, and dissociation. Studies have shown that a significant number of patients see a reduction in PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and hallucinations, after being treated with EMDR. Furthermore, the long-term effects of EMDR have been found to be beneficial for many people, allowing them to be more present and engage in more meaningful relationships.

Ultimately, EMDR is a powerful tool in the treatment of trauma and mental illness. It has been highly effective in helping people cope with traumatic memories and has been credited with helping many people live more fulfilling lives. It is important to remember, however, that EMDR is not a cure-all and that, like any type of therapy, it can be difficult and uncomfortable at times. It is important to discuss any worries or questions with your therapist before beginning treatment and to trust your clinic experiences during the session.

9. EMDR and False memories

EMDR therapy has been shown to have inconsistent effects on the ability to create false memories. In some studies, it was found that EMDR’s lateral eye movements increased accuracy of memories and decreased susceptibility to false memories. However, other studies showed that conducting the eye movements before misinformation actually increased false memories and reduced memory accuracy. Subsequent replications of this research did not find similar effects, however, and did not demonstrate that EMDR had any significant effect on memory accuracy at all. Additionally, research on EMDR practitioners finds that a large majority of them believe in the idea that trauma can lead to the repression of memories and that therapy can assist in recovering these memories, which can lead to an increase in false memories. Ultimately, it appears that EMDR is not impactful on memory and the ability to create false memories.

Cuijpers P, Veen SCV, Sijbrandij M, Yoder W, Cristea IA. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for mental health problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cogn Behav Ther. 2020 May;49(3):165-180. doi: 10.1080/16506073.2019.1703801. Epub 2020 Feb 11. PMID: 32043428.

What are the benefits of EMDR therapy?

EMDR therapy provides many benefits, including minimal talking required for it to be effective, help with processing past experiences, reducing negative thoughts and feelings, and helping with coping with current stressors. It is also recommended for children, teenagers and adults, is a natural healing process for the brain, produces positive results more quickly than with other forms of treatment and requires minimal homework.

Through bilateral stimulation in EMDR, patients can learn to develop healthier coping mechanisms and build up resilience. Bilateral stimulation has been shown to be an effective treatment for PTSDanxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

In the long term, EMDR can help people feel lighter, experience reduced fear, become more social and involved in their relationships, and potentially have their life trajectory changed for the better. Lastly, it has been used for more than PTSD, and can be beneficial for anxiety, depression, panic, and dissociation.


Is EMDR Therapy effective for treating trauma?

Yes, EMDR is an effective treatment for trauma. Studies have shown that EMDR therapy can be just as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for treating trauma (Lewey et al., 2018; Horst et al., 2017).

A 2014 study looking at 24 randomized controlled trials found that EMDR is more effective than CBT for treating trauma (Shapiro, 2014).

Additionally, EMDR has been recommended by various organizations to treat trauma, such as the World Health Organization, American Psychiatric Association, U.S. Department of Defense, and International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Many patients also report feeling liberated from traumatic memories after undergoing EMDR therapy. Evidence shows that a significant amount of people see a reduction in PTSD symptoms after being treated with EMDR, making it an effective treatment for trauma.

Why EMDR may not work?

What are the reasons EMDR may not work?

  1. The person may not have the correct diagnosis for EMDR therapy, such as PTSD or another condition for which EMDR is beneficial.
  2. The person may not be ready to begin the EMDR process.
  3. The person may not have developed the necessary rapport with their therapist.
  4. The person may not have practiced self-soothing techniques between sessions.
  5. The person may not have been able to keep up with the protocol.
  6. The person may not have been able to function as usual between sessions.
  7. The person may not have had enough sessions or the sessions may not have been spaced correctly.
  8. The person may not have correctly journaled their physical sensations or negative thoughts.
  9. The person may not be able to successfully reprocess the memories associated with their condition.
  10. The person may not have the necessary support system to help them with the EMDR process.
Categorized as PTSD

By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.