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Five Conditions Helped by EMDR

5 Disorders Effectively Treated with EMDR

  • Dissociative Disorder
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Panic Disorder

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was developed in the late 1980s as an experimental treatment for traumatic memories and the subsequent distress they produce. While it has shown extraordinary promise as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), practitioners have also applied it to several other psychological disorders.

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1. Dissociative Disorders

These are a family of psychological disorders that usually develop in response to trauma. While they are subtly different, the family is characterized by an escape from reality or dissociation. There is a disconnect between thoughts, actions, and distinct realities experienced by the individual. In this way, patients may avoid the memory of trauma or any of its consequences. EMDR is recommended as an advanced step, and should not be used as a standalone treatment within a therapeutic regimen. Therapists should be experienced with all techniques and understand how patients with dissociative disorders may react. Its main drawback is that it often reveals too much trauma too quickly.

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2. Phobias

Because of its revelatory manner, the research on the application of EMDR to treat social anxiety and generalized anxiety is sparse. However, there are some clinically acceptable data indicating that it may be effective in the treatment of specific phobias. Because EMDR can be successfully paired with most forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, such as exposure therapy, its revealing nature allows both the patient and the practitioner to gradually explore the roots of each phobia and then to help the patient face it.


Because EMDR was developed in order to treat the symptoms of PTSD—depression, anxiety, panic, and other psychological and physical developments—it remains the gold standard for studies of the therapy. It primarily accesses unprocessed memory of trauma and allows patients and practitioners to explore these memories. What one massive meta-study published on PLOS One revealed is that not only was it effective at treating PTSD and all connected symptoms, it was also indicated that more extended sessions were most effective. Another meta-study in the Permanente Journal noted that it was also an effective way to help patients deal with physical trauma that may accompany experiences or cause psychological stress.

4. Depression

While there are many types of therapy available for individuals suffering from mood disorders, such as depression, EMDR shows promise. It may be used as a standalone treatment, but complimentary therapeutic approaches are recommended as a part of an ongoing regimen. Especially in cases in which a long-standing chemical imbalance in the brain contributes to a depressive state, medication may prove beneficial as a part of a tailored approach. However, it’s often the case that depressive states can be caused or worsened by trauma and the patient’s coping mechanisms. EMDR allows the safe exploration of any environmental roots of depression.

5. Panic Disorders

Much like specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorders are a response to trauma, which the patient has not been able to move past or process in their daily lives. Perhaps most unfortunate is that these symptoms of a panic response tend to grow worse if left untreated, and what began as a simple avoidance or a slight panic response to stimuli becomes unmanageable. EMDR unhooks the loop of experience that the brain is stuck on, to put it in everyday terms. It allows the patient to experience the core of their panic, and then to move through or around it in a healthy and exploratory fashion.

It is with the hope that the therapeutic community explores rigorous experimental frameworks employing the technique. Adherence to standards of practice and purity of results are essential. While there is still a great deal of work to be done, those who suffer from these psychological complaints and disorders stand to benefit from the continued exploration and application of EMDR.