Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Chances are you have heard of EMDR. Perhaps you've run across it on the internet, in an article, spoken about by a friend/family member, or maybe you have experienced EMDR personally. You may not know exactly what it is, or what it even stands for but most people who have heard about it, know it's "some kind of therapy".
EMDR (discovered back in 1989 by Dr. Francine Shapiro) has had a recent rise to fame and world-wide publicity as a treatment for trauma and PTSD. Heavily advertised and coveted by the psychologist community, EMDR learning requires that you have a degree in social work, psychology, or psychiatry. Now, you would think that with this highly selective process in teaching this technique and broad spread publicity, the success results would be through the roof. Mental health would be on the decline and trauma related suicides would be down. Not so much. In fact it is quite the opposite. Why is that?
Let's see if we can find out!
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
An EMDR session is typically 60 - 90 minutes. The therapist moves their fingers back and forth in front of your face while you follow them with your eyes. While this is happening, the therapist will have you recall a traumatic event. Eventually, the therapist will move your awareness to more pleasant thoughts and events. There are variations of course however this is the basic idea behind a session.
The theory is that your eyes move in specific directions when accessing different modalities. In manipulating which way you look when accessing these modalities you can "desensitize and reprocess" the information. EMDR in some respects borrows basic principles used in circle therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, currently hailed as the gold standard in behavioral psycho-therapeutic treatment of PTSD.
I personally have and do use this model from time to time. I've never been trained in EMDR and I don't have one of those "required degrees". So how is that even possible, you ask? Because about 20 years before EMDR was even a concept, there was NLP.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
Created back in the 1970's NLP was founded on the practices and techniques of Milton Erickson, American psychiatrist and psychologist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy. Erickson’s view of the unconscious mind was distinctly different from that of Freud, mainly in that it lacked the hostile and aggressive aspects so characteristic of Freud’s system. Erickson’s perspective is that hypnosis provided a tool with which to communicate with the unconscious mind. That concept in and of itself modernized therapy for many bringing it into a new era.
While Erickson is crowned as being the father of modern hypnosis it is Richard Bandler and John Grinder that are the fathers of NLP. It is here within NLP that we find the below model.
This model is literally a blueprint to how the eyes move in the head when accessing specific information. Looks and sounds a lot like EMDR, doesn't it? So is there a difference?
EMDR vs NLP+Hypnotherapy
The Scientific Stuff
(this can be a bit dry so feel free to skip to "Sessions and Costs" if you like)
While NLP does have a process called EMI (Eye Movement Integration) there is a difference. The NLP eye movement chart has been primarily used as a diagnostic tool to determine someone's experience rather than how it can be used to assist that person. Meaning that eye movement has generally been used within NLP for information gathering more so than the change process.
So while eye movements have been indelibly linked with NLP, when it comes to using eye movements associated with a therapeutic process EMDR has the leg up.
EMI works with the assumption that “all the relevant multi-sensory dimensions” are required for full integration of the traumatic experience. Therefore the aim of the eye movements is to create “new linkages between different types of sensory, affective, or cognitive information.” So the process does not remove the memory of what happened but it does remove the emotional charge that creates the symptoms.
EMDR suggests that by inducing the recall of distressing events and diverting attention from their emotional consequences through rapid eye movements this will dampen the power of emotionally charged memories of past traumatic events.
Now if those descriptions both sounded very similar to you, it's because they are.
Despite being very similar the most noticeable difference is the speed in which EMI and EMDR are performed at. EMDR favors rapid lateral movements while EMI utilizes much slower movements to connect all the eye positions. I feel the EMI model here leaves more room to adjust to how slow or how fast the client requires these connections to be made. This would create longer lasting and more solidified connections.
While that is one obvious difference, the greatest differences however are how each method approaches the concept and nature of trauma and therapy.
Initially, the concept of a psychological trauma was reserved for when something quite out of the ordinary had been visited upon its victim, by nature or by other people. Some mental health circles and practitioners (such as myself) hold true that trauma is, “any experience that leaves an imprint which continues to give rise to negative effects and recurrences in one or more of the sensory, emotional or cognitive systems.” This vast difference in distinguishing what "trauma" is, how it affects us, and how it is stored gives the practitioner who believes this more room to work in and about the "trauma". (this is a very deep topic that I may write about at a later time)
As for therapy, EMDR is placed into a whole treatment context while NLP and hypnotherapy are not. Meaning that when you sign up for EMDR, that is all you are doing, every single session. In this aspect NLP and hypnotherapy take the lead.
Sessions and Costs
EMDR - A quick Google search netted me a number of 6-12 sessions for EMDR therapy costing between $900 and $1500 for 6 sessions and $1800 to $3000 for 12 sessions.
Hypnotherapy - On average a hypnotherapy session can range from $75.00 to $150.00 a session and does not require you to be present in person. Qualified and experienced hypnotherapists can remove the symptoms of abuse/trauma and PTSD in as little as 1 - 3 sessions.
Zen Level - I myself have a process that is 6 sessions for around $600 - $900 with the trauma release part only taking up 2 - 3 of those sessions at most. That leaves 3 - 4 sessions to focus on other things like, what comes next.
EMDR - Google shows an impressive 80% success rate according to studies however this number is questioned by it's own community (see below). Further research shows the more "accepted" numbers are 70% - 100%, so take that as you will.
Hypnotherapy - Unfortunately hypnosis has no such study based on PTSD because it is still viewed as a "pseudo-science" and therefore not worth researching and looking into I guess. That said, I did pull some numbers and most are in the 90 percentile for hypnotherapy in general. Again, take it as you will.
Zen Level - I'm going to say 98.5% - Yes, that's right I have a 98.5% success rate for removing and eliminating the symptoms associated with trauma/abuse and PTSD. I would say about 1.5 percent hold on to one or more significantly reduced versions of symptoms. However, with ongoing personal use of hypnotic techniques these are eventually removed. How is it so high? Because I work with models, techniques, processes and understandings that are not accepted and taught in the "mental health" communities. Again, take it as you will as ALL of these numbers are yet to be agreed upon as fact. Welcome to the mental health crisis!
EMDR - This is a single technique that is repeated over and over again until the symptoms are minimized.
Hypnotherapy - In and of itself hypnotherapy utilizes therapeutic techniques such as timeline therapy, circle therapy, chair therapy, etc with the added benefits of hypnosis. It literally is actual therapy with hypnosis.
Zen Level - I utilize multiple techniques in the removal of abuse/trauma and PTSD. Many of which are of my own creation combining NLP and direct hypnosis as well as clinical therapy and counseling models. By bypassing the conscious mind I work directly with the subconscious mind for faster, permanent results.
The "Mental Health" Community
For this article I attempted to secure Canadian resources and guidelines about EMDR and hypnosis for PTSD and was surprised by the lack of information on either the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) and the Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) websites. Search results showed an "Understanding PTSD" document on the VAC website that actually referred to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) guidelines and not once mentioned EMDR as a treatment. Hypnosis is only mentioned once for IBS on the CPA website and once on the VAC website for smoking.
According to the VAC's PTSD document under the section "Who Can Help Me" only a primary care physician, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or pastoral counselor/chaplain can help you. Needless to say I will disappointingly be running with the American Psychological Association and the American Department of Veteran Affairs information and guidelines for the next section.
Given the relative newness and close resemblance to NLP it shouldn't come as a surprise that the "mental health" community is at odds with the effectiveness of EMDR. Critics claim that most EMDR studies involve only small numbers of participants. While others have published reports showing the treatment's effectiveness based on consolidated data from several studies. Despite being effective or ineffective even the most enthusiastic supporters of EMDR are not in agreement on how the therapy works. At this point, only theories exist. If I had to guess, I would say it is because, they would be required to acknowledge that certain eye positions access specific mental data which would link back to the NLP model and since practicing NLP doesn't require an expensive, fancy degree to perform they would then lose their "special" method that only they can perform.
This however has not stopped the APA (American Psychiatric Association) from noting that "EMDR is effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic PTSD". While in the same breath noting that "other research is needed to tell whether improvements from EMDR can be sustained over time".
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense "strongly recommended" EMDR for the treatment of PTSD in both military and non-military populations. They also note that this approach has been as effective as other psychological treatments in some studies, and less effective in others.
More well known is the "mental health" community and government's stance on the use of hypnosis. Both preferring more "established forms" of psychotherapy and/or medication treatment.
Despite being blackballed by the CPA, the American Psychiatric Association says - "Although hypnosis has been controversial, most clinicians now agree it can be a powerful, effective therapeutic technique for a wide range of conditions, including pain, anxiety and mood disorders. Hypnosis can also help people change their habits, such as quitting smoking."
Unfortunately The Department of Veterans Affairs was not as kind. I found this at the very bottom of the list under "Alternative and Adjunctive Treatments". It said, "There are a host of other treatment techniques ranging from homeopathy to hypnosis that, while not being "run of the mill," can help some people. In some cases, these alternative techniques are used only when more mainstream methods have proved ineffective or as an adjunct to those treatments, when appropriate. Remember: everyone reacts differently to therapy and, occasionally, some treatments may do more harm than good, especially in the hands of inexperienced practitioners. Before embarking upon these treatments, you should discuss the possibilities with a skilled mental health professional who is knowledgeable in all available resources for the treatment of PTSD."
<rant start> Well excuse me very much for not being a "skilled mental health professional" and could you please enlighten me to exactly who is "knowledgeable in ALL available resources"? I would greatly like to speak to this person. Not to worry, I'll just take all my education, credentials and certifications along with my years of experience, lower costs, permanent results and higher success rates, and sit over here while the adults talk. Don't mind me, I'll just entertain myself with my pocket watch or something and wait for an article to come out 10 or 20 years from now, talking about a breakthrough on the science of EMDR while I roll my eyes and give you a slow clap for finally catching up. <end rant>
Anyways! Time to get objective.
Alright let's see here..! We have a technique/process that might or might not work. It may or may not have a very high success rate for PTSD and no one can agree on why or how it actually works.
Hold on, did I just describe EMDR or hypnosis? Interesting, yet one of these is acknowledged worldwide and the other should only be considered as a last resort. Okay...
So what's the point? Is there a point? Let's make a point and say that the continued exclusion of the hypnotherapy community only ensures that mental health services remain costly, lengthy and difficult to obtain. Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are a MORE than viable alternative to what is currently endorsed and favored as treatment for abuse/trauma and PTSD among many other things.
When it comes to EMDR vs Hypnosis+NLP the only real thing going for EMDR is that it can state it is "evidence based". What is an evidence-based practice? It's "a practice that has been rigorously evaluated in experimental evaluations – like randomized controlled trials – and is shown to make a positive, statistically significant difference in important outcomes".
So does a thousand hand written letters claiming positive, permanent change from clients make a practice "evidence based"? No? Good to know. Despite the results being questioned within it's own community you will see "evidence based" used to describe EMDR.
In reviewing both EMDR and Hypnosis+NLP as standalone therapy techniques I have to say that the NLP's EMI model is a kinder, gentler, cheaper, quicker and a more effective precursor to the EMDR model. Plus we can explain how and why it works.
It is in no way my intention to defame or discredit any process/technique or school of mental health practice. Only to inform, educate, and present possibilities for those seeking help for mental health. The only person who can dictate what form of therapy is right for you, is you. Do your own research.
It is my drive and my sincere hope that the current mental health crisis creates an olive branch between the "mental health" community and we who have been fighting along side them in the shadows. Together we stand, divided we fall.