Dangers of EMDR Therapy: Risks, Precautions & Alternatives

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

When evaluating approaches for mental health concerns, it is critical to be mindful of the possible risks linked with EMDR therapy. Despite its potential to effectively treat trauma, EMDR may not be the right approach for everyone.

This blog post will delve into the risks associated with EMDR therapy and discuss ways to mitigate these concerns. We’ll explore how to prepare oneself before engaging in EMDR sessions and manage any side effects that might arise during the process.

Additionally, we will examine alternative therapeutic methods that could serve as a more appropriate choice depending on individual circumstances. Finally, we will guide finding a qualified therapist and emphasize the importance of aftercare following an EMDR session. By understanding the benefits and potential dangers of EMDR therapy, you can make informed decisions about your mental health journey.

Table of Contents:

What is EMDR Therapy?

dangers of emdr therapy

EMDR, a therapeutic approach created by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, is an effective treatment for PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, EMDR has gained recognition as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

A Brief Overview of How EMDR Works

In an EMDR session, the therapist guides the client through a series of eye movements while they focus on specific aspects of their trauma or distressing memory. These eye movements simultaneously stimulate both sides of the brain, helping clients reprocess their traumatic experiences more adaptively.

The therapy consists of eight phases:

  1. Client history-taking and treatment planning
  2. Preparation: building trust between client and therapist
  3. Assessment: identifying target memories for processing
  4. Desensitization: using bilateral stimulation to reduce emotional disturbance associated with memories
  5. Installation: strengthening positive beliefs about oneself related to the targeted memory
  6. Body scan: checking for any residual physical sensations connected to the memory
  7. Closure: discussing progress made during the session, ensuring the client feels stable before leaving
  8. Reevaluation: reviewing progress at subsequent sessions, adjusting treatment plan if necessary

Bilateral Stimulation Techniques Used in EMDR Therapy

While eye movements are the most commonly used form of bilateral stimulation in EMDR therapy, other techniques can also be employed. These include:

  • Auditory stimulation: alternating sounds played through headphones
  • Tactile stimulation: tapping or vibrating devices held in each hand

Research has demonstrated that EMDR therapy can successfully treat various mental health issues, particularly PTSD; the APA and WHO endorse it as a legitimate therapeutic approach, yet potential risks and side effects should be considered before beginning this journey. The APA and WHO both accept EMDR as a valid therapeutic technique. Despite its potential benefits, EMDR therapy may have certain risks and side effects that should be carefully considered.

EMDR Therapy is a type of psychotherapy that uses eye movements and other sensory input to help people process traumatic memories. However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with this form of therapy before deciding if it’s right for you.


EMDR therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals process and heal from traumatic experiences or distressing memories. It involves bilateral stimulation techniques, such as eye movements and auditory or tactile stimulation. While it has been recognized as an effective treatment for PTSD and other mental health issues by the APA and WHO, potential risks and side effects should be considered before starting this therapy.

Potential Risks of EMDR Therapy

Although EMDR therapy has been demonstrated to benefit many, it is critical to recognize the risks arising from its use. Some people may experience adverse effects or find that EMDR is unsuitable for their needs.

A. Triggering Traumatic Memories

One of the primary concerns with EMDR therapy is the possibility of triggering traumatic memories during a session. As the therapist guides you through recalling distressing events, you may experience intense emotions and physical sensations related to your trauma. Some individuals may experience heightened anxiety or even re-traumatization if not appropriately overseen by a competent therapist during EMDR sessions due to the potential to activate traumatic memories.

B. Emotional Distress During Sessions

In addition to potentially triggering traumatic memories, EMDR sessions can also cause emotional distress as you process difficult experiences from your past. It’s essential to recall that these sensations are a normal part of the recuperating process and should diminish as you persist in dealing with your difficulties through therapy.

C. Incomplete Processing of Trauma

If an individual does not complete all phases of EMDR treatment, there is a risk that they will only partially process their trauma, leaving unresolved issues behind, which could hinder progress toward recovery.

Dangers Associated With Untrained Practitioners

  • Lack Of Training: If your therapist lacks proper training in EMDR techniques, they might inadvertently worsen symptoms instead of helping alleviate them.
  • Unethical Practices: Untrained practitioners may not adhere to professional organizations’ ethical guidelines, potentially causing harm or exploiting vulnerable clients.

It is essential to collaborate with a certified and knowledgeable EMDR specialist who can securely guide you through the procedure. Additionally, discussing your concerns with your therapist before beginning treatment can help ensure that you are prepared for any potential challenges during therapy sessions.

Before engaging in EMDR therapy, it is important to know the possible risks that could affect one’s mental health. Before engaging in EMDR therapy, it is important to understand the process and take the necessary steps for proper preparation.


EMDR therapy can be effective for many individuals, but it is important to understand the potential risks. These include triggering traumatic memories, emotional distress during sessions, incomplete processing of trauma, and dangers associated with untrained practitioners. To minimize these risks, work with a qualified EMDR therapist who can safely guide you through the process and discuss any concerns before beginning treatment.

Preparing for EMDR Therapy

If you’re considering EMDR therapy, you must be well-prepared to maximize the benefits and minimize potential risks. Here are some tips on how to prepare for an EMDR session:

A. Understand the Process

Before starting EMDR therapy, learn how it works and what to expect during a session. Converse with your therapist regarding any worries you may have to feel more at ease with the procedure and better comprehend their technique.

B. Discuss Your Concerns with Your Therapist

Converse with your therapist about any apprehensions or worries regarding the treatment and past experiences that could be stirred up during sessions. Share any concerns or fears about the process and any specific triggers or traumas that may arise during sessions.

C. Set Realistic Expectations

  • Timeframe: Remember that healing from trauma can take time; don’t expect immediate results after one session.
  • Potential discomfort: Be prepared for possible emotional distress during sessions, as this is part of processing traumatic memories.
  • Ongoing support: While EMDR can be highly effective, it may not resolve all trauma-related issues; ongoing therapeutic support might still be necessary.

D. Create a Safe Environment Post-Session

In case strong emotions surface after an EMDR session, make sure there is someone available who understands what you’re going through – whether it’s a friend or family member – so they can provide support if needed. Consider scheduling your sessions when you have space to process and relax afterward.

E. Practice Self-Care

Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally leading up to an EMDR session. This includes getting enough sleep, eating well-balanced meals, staying hydrated, engaging in physical activity that you enjoy (such as yoga or walking), and practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises.

By following these steps before beginning EMDR therapy, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges that may arise during treatment while maximizing its potential benefits for your mental health journey.

It is imperative to be cognizant of any hazards that could come with EMDR therapy before commencing treatment. Realizing the potential for side effects during EMDR treatment necessitates knowing how to handle them to guarantee a secure and successful experience effectively.


To prepare for EMDR therapy, it’s important to understand the process and discuss any concerns with your therapist. Setting realistic expectations, creating a safe environment post-session, and practicing self-care are also crucial steps in maximizing the benefits of this treatment while minimizing potential risks.

Managing Side Effects of EMDR Therapy

While EMDR therapy has proven to be effective for many individuals, it is not without its side effects. Some common side effects experienced during or after an EMDR session include headaches, dizziness, and heightened emotions. In this section, we will discuss how to manage these side effects so that you can continue your journey toward healing.

a) Headaches

Headaches are a common side effect of EMDR therapy due to the intense focus on traumatic memories and eye movements involved in the process. To help alleviate headache symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of water before and after your session to stay hydrated.
  • If necessary, take pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce headache symptoms; otherwise, apply a cold/warm compress and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Apply a cold or warm compress to your forehead or temples for relief.
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or meditation into your daily routine.

b) Dizziness

Dizziness may occur during an EMDR session due to rapid eye movements and the processing difficult emotions. If you experience dizziness:

  • Pause the session momentarily and take slow, deep breaths until the sensation subsides.
  • Inform your therapist about any dizziness so they can adjust their approach accordingly.

c) Heightened Emotions

The emotional intensity of EMDR therapy can lead to heightened emotions both during and after a session. Remember that these reactions are a part of the therapeutic journey and should be embraced with understanding. To manage heightened emotions:

  • Practice self-compassion by acknowledging your feelings without judgment.
  • Contact friends, family members, or support groups for emotional support.
  • Create a calming environment at home with soothing music, scented candles, or comfortable blankets.

In addition to managing side effects, it is crucial to maintain open communication with your therapist throughout the EMDR process. They can provide guidance and adjust their approach based on your needs and experiences.

Managing the side effects of EMDR therapy is an important part of its successful application, and understanding potential risks can help you make informed decisions. Moving on to alternatives to EMDR Therapy, it’s important to consider all options before making a treatment decision.


EMDR therapy can have side effects such as headaches, dizziness, and heightened emotions. To manage these symptoms, one should stay hydrated, take breaks when feeling dizzy, and practice self-compassion. It is important to communicate with your therapist throughout the process for guidance and adjustments based on individual needs.

Alternatives to EMDR Therapy

If you’re considering therapy for mental health issues, exploring all available options and finding the best fit for your needs is essential. While EMDR can be highly effective in treating trauma-related disorders, other therapies may be more suitable, depending on your situation. In this section, we’ll discuss some alternative therapies that could potentially benefit you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely-used form of psychotherapy designed to help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. CBT has been proven effective in treating various mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more. If you’re having difficulty with mental health issues but aren’t sure if EMDR is suitable, CBT could be a great substitute.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is another form of cognitive-based therapy that teaches individuals how to regulate their emotions effectively. DBT was initially developed to treat borderline personality disorder but has since been adapted for use with other mental health concerns like eating disorders or self-harm tendencies. This type of therapy emphasizes mindfulness techniques alongside interpersonal effectiveness skills to help those struggling with emotional regulation.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged Exposure Therapy is a specific type of CBT that focuses on helping individuals gradually confront and process traumatic memories. This approach is effective in reducing PTSD symptoms by allowing patients to gain mastery over their trauma-related fears. If EMDR doesn’t seem the right fit for you, Prolonged Exposure Therapy might be worth considering as an alternative.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is another specialized form of CBT designed for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma. TF-CBT combines traditional cognitive-behavioral techniques with family therapy, relaxation skills training, and psychoeducation about trauma’s impact on mental health. This approach can help young people develop healthy coping strategies while addressing any lingering effects from their traumatic experiences.

In conclusion, it’s essential to research different therapeutic approaches before committing to one method fully. As each person’s needs are distinct, a therapy that works well for another individual may not be the best fit for you or your family. Always consult a qualified mental health professional when seeking guidance on which therapy option would be most appropriate given your specific circumstances.

Before selecting an alternative to EMDR therapy, assessing the associated risks and benefits is critical. It is imperative to source a qualified practitioner who can deliver excellent care for any mental health treatment.


When considering therapy for mental health issues, exploring all available options and finding the best fit is important. While EMDR can be effective in treating trauma-related disorders, alternative therapies such as CBT, DBT, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may be more suitable depending on your specific situation. It’s crucial to research different therapeutic approaches before committing to one method fully and always consult with a qualified mental health professional when seeking guidance.

Finding a Qualified Therapist

Locating an adept therapist with expertise in providing EMDR therapy safely and effectively is essential for ensuring the most favorable results from your mental health journey. In this section, we’ll seek advice on discovering a therapist knowledgeable in providing EMDR treatment securely and successfully that meets your requirements.

A. Research Credentials and Experience

When searching for an EMDR therapist, looking into their credentials and experience in the field is essential. A licensed mental health professional with specific training in EMDR therapy should be sought out. You can verify their licensure through state licensing boards or check if they are listed as an approved provider on the EMDRIA website.

B. Seek Recommendations from Trusted Sources

  • Ask friends, family members, or colleagues undergoing EMDR therapy for recommendations.
  • Contact local support groups related to trauma or mental health issues; they may have suggestions of reputable therapists.
  • Your primary care physician may also provide referrals based on their knowledge of local professionals specializing in trauma-focused therapies like EMDR.

C. Interview Potential Therapists Before Committing

Once you’ve identified potential therapists, it’s important to schedule consultations with them before committing fully to treatment sessions:

  1. Evaluate Comfort Level: You must feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics with your therapist since trust plays a significant role during treatment sessions.
  2. Inquire About Treatment Approach: Ask about their approach to EMDR therapy, including the number of sessions they typically recommend and how they handle any potential risks or side effects.
  3. Discuss Payment Options: Ensure you know the therapist’s fees and payment options. If you have insurance, check if your plan covers EMDR therapy sessions with your chosen provider.

Taking these steps will help you find a qualified EMDR therapist who can provide safe and effective treatment tailored to your specific needs. Remember, it’s essential to prioritize your mental health by seeking professional guidance from experienced therapists when considering therapies like EMDR.

Finding a competent practitioner is crucial when looking into EMDR therapy to guarantee you get the ideal treatment and care. Aftercare following an EMDR session is also essential to maximize the benefits of your experience.


To ensure the best outcome for your mental health journey with EMDR therapy, finding a qualified therapist experienced in providing it safely and effectively is crucial. This can be done by researching their credentials and experience, seeking recommendations from trusted sources, and interviewing potential therapists before committing. Remember to prioritize your mental health by seeking professional guidance from experienced therapists when considering therapies like EMDR.

Aftercare Following an EMDR Session

It’s essential to take care of yourself after an EMDR therapy session, as it can stir up intense emotions and memories. In this section, we’ll outline self-care strategies to help you cope with lingering feelings or sensations.

A. Practice Relaxation Techniques

Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine can help alleviate stress and anxiety following EMDR sessions. Some effective methods include:

  • Mindfulness meditation: Focus on your breath and bring awareness to the present moment without judgment.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): Tense and systematically relax different muscle groups to release tension throughout the body.
  • Breathing exercises: Take slow, deep breaths using diaphragmatic breathing techniques for better oxygen flow and reduced anxiety levels.

B. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

Taking care of your physical health is crucial when dealing with emotional challenges post-EMDR therapy sessions. Consider implementing these habits:

  • Include nutrient-dense foods in your daily diet to nourish both body and mind.
  • Aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night to ensure proper restorative rest for the mind and body.
  • Incorporate regular exercise into your routine; even moderate activities like walking or yoga have significantly improved mental well-being.

C. Seek Support from Loved Ones

Talking to friends, family members, or a support group can help you process your emotions and experiences after EMDR therapy. Don’t hesitate to seek comfort and understanding from those who care about you.

D. Journal Your Thoughts

Writing down one’s reflections and sentiments in a diary can be remedial, furnishing a profitable understanding of the recuperating cycle. Reflect on the progress made during EMDR sessions and any challenges that may arise.

E. Schedule Follow-Up Appointments with Your Therapist

It’s essential to maintain open communication with your therapist throughout the entire EMDR process. Regular follow-up appointments will allow both of you to assess how effectively the treatment works and make adjustments if necessary.

Incorporating these self-care strategies into your routine following an EMDR session can significantly improve emotional well-being while fostering personal growth and resilience during this transformative experience.


After an EMDR therapy session, taking care of yourself is important, as intense emotions and memories can be stirred up. Practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and sleep, seeking support from loved ones or a therapist, journaling your thoughts, and scheduling follow-up appointments are all effective ways to cope with lingering feelings or sensations.


Why is EMDR therapy controversial?

EMDR therapy is controversial due to its relatively rapid results and unconventional approach, which has led some professionals to question its effectiveness. Additionally, there are concerns about potential risks and side effects associated with the treatment. However, numerous studies have demonstrated its efficacy in treating trauma-related disorders.

When is EMDR not recommended?

EMDR may not be suitable for individuals with certain medical conditions or mental health issues such as psychosis, severe dissociative disorders, uncontrolled bipolar disorder, or epilepsy. It’s essential to consult a qualified therapist who can assess your situation before starting any therapy.

What are the weaknesses of EMDR?

The main weaknesses of EMDR include limited research on long-term outcomes and effectiveness for non-trauma-related issues. Some critics argue that it may overemphasize eye movements’ role in processing traumatic memories while downplaying other therapeutic elements like cognitive restructuring.

Can EMDR be triggering?

Yes, EMDR can potentially trigger distressing emotions or memories during sessions as clients process their traumas. A qualified therapist should monitor these reactions closely and provide appropriate support throughout treatment to minimize discomfort and ensure safety.


Ultimately, EMDR may be helpful for those who have been through distressing situations or display PTSD signs. Despite the potential benefits, it is important to be aware of any risks or side effects of EMDR therapy. It is also crucial to find a qualified and skilled therapist who can help manage any negative experiences that may arise during EMDR sessions.

Images Courtesy of DepositPhotos
This site contains affiliate links to products. We will receive a commission for purchases made through these links.
Special offer for our visitors

Get your Free Stress Management Guide

We will never send you spam. By signing up for this you agree with our privacy policy and to receive regular updates via email in regards to industry news and promotions