Is EMDR Real?

A reader asks:

Is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) real? My wife swears by it but it seems like hocus pocus to me.

EMDR is a treatment protocol for PTSD that involves the patient imagining their exposure to the traumatic event, while simultaneously performing saccadic (back and forth) eye movements. There’s a lot of research showing that EMDR is an effective treatment for PTSD.

However most dismantling studies show that the eye movement component of the treatment doesn’t add anything to the efficacy of the treatment. In other words, people who do the imaginal exposure component without the eye movement component get similar benefits.

So, is EMDR hocus pocus? No. But like a lot of things in life, when something works it may not be for the reasons we (want to) think.

If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on PTSD and Trauma, you might enjoy this essay: How to Think About Trauma →