Is Online EMDR Therapy Effective?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR) is a unique, evidence-based, psychotherapy treatment that has attained global recognition, support, and use thanks to its proven effectiveness at helping people overcome trauma and PTSD, as well as various forms of anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and other mental, emotional, and behavioral health issues.
The primary difference between EMDR and more traditional talk therapy, is that EMDR therapy is designed to help clients create a “learning state” in which they can focus on a troubling experiences or emotions while simultaneously experiencing some form of bilateral stimulation – this typically involves the client moving his or her eyes back and forth in a rapid, rhythmic manner similar to the rapid eye movement that occurs naturally when we dream in our sleep, but can also include tapping or auditory tones.
This bilateral stimulation can greatly reduce the power and effect of emotionally charged feelings and memories, allowing clients to re-experience and redefine their pasts, heal, and move forward in their relationships and lives, often in a fraction of the time it takes using traditional talk therapy.
Given EMDR’s proven speed and efficacy, it’s no wonder that its use has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades.
According to the EMDR Institute, over 100,000 clinicians around the world provide EMDR therapy, and millions of people have been treated successfully using EMDR over the past 25 years.
And thanks to the increased rates of anxiety, trauma, and depression brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for EMDR therapy has continued to grow throughout the shelter-in-place and “lockdown” orders of the past couple of years. All of which has led many to ask …
Can EMDR Therapy Be Done Online?
Before the pandemic, this question was often met with skepticism. While there may have been a few therapists here and there that were trying to make online EMDR therapy work, before COVID-19 there was little to no research suggesting online versions of the treatment were effective.
But, as with so many things, the COVID pandemic changed everything …
As more and more people sought help coping with the anxiety and trauma brought about by the pandemic, EMDR clinicians facing shelter-in-place orders were forced to either close their practices or move them online.
Most therapists chose the latter option, and over the course of the past couple of years online EMDR therapy has become routine for countless clients and EMDR therapists alike.
Moreover, all of these therapists have contributed to a growing body of knowledge, research, and best practices that have helped make sure online EMDR treatment is just as beneficial as in-person sessions.
As just one example, an evaluation of EMDR therapy delivered remotely during the COVID–19 pandemic showed statistically significant and clinically meaningful results in both children and adults.
So the short answer as to whether or not EMDR can be done online is a definite, “Yes!”
Research is finally beginning to support what EMDR therapists have seen with their own eyes … that online EMDR therapy can be every bit as effective at helping clients overcome a variety of mental, emotional, and behavioral health issues as when it’s done in person.
Which leads us to the next question …
What’s the Difference between Online and In-Person EMDR Sessions?
The primary principles and phases of EMDR don’t change when done online.
Of course, the bilateral stimulation may be handled a bit differently …
Following a therapist’s hands or fingers or a light bar from side to side, or using an auditory headset may not be as feasible when a client and therapist aren’t in the same room and are only able to interact on a screen of limited dimensions.
That being said, there are a growing number of bilateral stimulation options available, and all that’s really required is a little creativity on the part of the psychotherapist and client.
One of the cheapest and easiest options is for clients to simply tap themselves using a butterfly hug during the bilateral stimulation part of the EMDR process. I’ve also had clients report positive results by scanning the top of their laptop or computer from side to side, or using any two fixed objects in their view (such as putting two Post-it Notes on the wall). And there are even software programs like RemotEMDR and ActiveEMDR that offer a variety of bilateral movements and auditory tones that can be used during virtual EMDR sessions.
In other words, there are a lot of different, creative options available when it comes to creating virtual bilateral stimulation. And bilateral stimulation isn’t even always a necessity …
Many “holistic” EMDR practitioners take a more “organic” or attachment-based approach to EMDR, making use of bilateral stimulation only when needed, but for the most part weaving various EMDR tools throughout more traditional talk therapy sessions.
Other than the difference in bilateral stimulation techniques, the only other major difference between online EMDR and in-person sessions is the environment in which those sessions are held.
Because EMDR activates negative memories and emotional triggers that can be uncomfortable or upsetting, it’s important for clients to feel safe during sessions.
Of course, some clients are more comfortable at home than they are in a therapist’s office. But many clients have difficulty finding or creating a safe, contained, private space in which to hold online therapy sessions.
Accordingly, while online EMDR clinicians will likely spend extra time making sure you learn grounding techniques to help you feel safe during the process, I highly recommend you make sure you have a comfortable, private, safe space available before starting online EMDR therapy so that you can stay fully present and engaged during sessions.
Other than that caveat, the feedback I’ve received from clients that have transitioned from in-person EMDR to online sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and the vast majority of my clients have found they prefer online EMDR to in-person sessions.
Is Online EMDR Therapy Right for You?
Only you can decide whether or not EMDR treatment is right for you …
What I can say is that online EMDR therapy can be just as fast and effective as in-person EMDR sessions.
If you’re looking for help to cope with and move beyond trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and other mental, emotional, and behavioral health issues, so you can redefine your past, enjoy the present, and move forward into the future with confidence and optimism, then EMDR is definitely worth more than a quick sideways or passing glance!
If you have any questions about this article, or if I may be of any other assistance, please feel free to contact me at (949) 310-2311 with any questions you may have or to schedule a free, initial phone consultation. I look forward to hearing from you.