Why didn’t EMDR work?

Have you ever wondered why EMDR therapy didn't work for you? Or why is it taking so long? Here you read about four of the reasons why your EMDR journey is slower than you had hoped.

Why didn't EMDR work? Or why is it talking so long...

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is now widely recognised for its effectiveness in treating PTSD. It is extremely effective with single trauma events, and it can work quite quickly in those circumstances. But people often experience more than one traumatic event in their lives, and that having suffered some kind of abuse and/or neglect in childhood, makes us more vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems in adulthood, including PTSD.

People often hear that EMDR can resolve trauma quite quickly, and may start EMDR therapy with the hope that it will alleviate their issues fast. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

If you have tried EMDR and you wondered why it did not work faster, below are 4 reasons why EMDR therapy might not have worked the way you expected or it may be taking longer than you had hoped:


1. Your EMDR therapist needs more information

Your therapist needs more information about you and your past experiences, how they impacted you and your relationships with others, and your ability to deal with day-to-day challenges. EMDR therapists need enough information about you to make sure that the processing part of EMDR is safe for, and that you have the skills to manage the emotions that may come up during trauma processing. 

This means that your therapist may spend some time teaching you some skills and strategies, such as grounding techniques, etc. 

Even if it feels to you that you are not directly addressing your traumatic experiences, this part of the work is incredibly valuable, and some PTSD symptoms can decrease just with some of these techniques.

Your therapist also needs to know if one of your survival strategies is dissociation, which is common when someone has experienced significant trauma in their lives. If you have a tendency to dissociate (which is not something voluntary), your EMDR therapist is likely to do some work with you before moving onto trauma processing.


2. You did not have the right support or validation after your traumatic experience

Long-lasting traumatic reactions and symptoms can be precipitated or worsened by what happened after the incident or incidents (or what did not happen). For example, if after a traumatic event, you did not feel that you could trust anyone to talk about it, if the response from others when you talked about it or asked for help was invalidating, negative or simply not helpful, this can contribute to difficulties overcoming trauma spontaneously. 

It may be that you already had experiences of being invalidated, lack of support, bullying, etc. in your past that got triggered, or the unhelpful response from people around you was so extreme, that that one time alone was enough to condition your nervous system to experience persistent PTSD symptoms and/or anxiety.


3. There are ongoing persistent challenges, trauma or crises in your life

If you are going through difficult life challenges whilst you are having EMDR therapy, it may feel like it is not the right time to look at big  and deeply rooted traumas. It may be your choice, or it may be your EMDR therapist who suggests pausing the trauma focused work until it feels like a better time.

In these cases, there is still a lot of great work that can take place using EMDR techniques, to help you handle your current challenges better. Sometimes, this preliminary work can indirectly help with the impact of big trauma events, so when you decide that you are ready for that work, it may feel easier to process these traumatic memories.  

4. The EMDR therapist's experience

Like with any other therapy, the effectiveness of EMDR largely depends on the therapist’s skill and experience. 

If you are looking for an EMDR therapist, it is worth looking for someone who is not only generally experienced in EMDR, but also has significant experience using EMDR for problems that are similar to your problems or significant experience working with people from a group that you belong to or identify with (for example, someone experienced working with autistic or ADHD people, working with chronic pain, experienced working with athletes and high performance, etc.). 

If you do like a therapist and would like to try working with them even if they do not have that much experience in the area that is relevant for you, make sure that they do have regular supervision and that they engage in EMDR related professional development. We all must start somewhere, and they may have a style, approach, something about them that is a good match for you.


What to do if you feel that your progress is slow or that you are not working on the issues that led you to seek therapy?

The length of time you need will depend on your specific circumstances.

If you are unsure of why you are working on certain things, or why you are not working on certain topics or memories, I encourage you to share your concerns with your therapist.

EMDR is a kind of therapy where the preparation you do before doing what we know as ‘trauma processing’ will help make the next steps and working with your traumatic memories easier (and sometimes faster in the long run). It is like getting all the ingredients you need for a recipe before you start cooking, rather than starting to bake a cake and suddenly realising that you do not have some key ingredients.

If you would like to know what are some of the signs that EMDR therapy IS working, you can check out my blog ‘How do you know if EMDR is working?’, which can be found here: www.mindmadeeasy.com/emdr-success/ 

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