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Who Is Or Isn't A Good Candidate For EMDR Therapy?

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EMDR therapy is a potential option for people who've suffered severe traumas. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a framework for helping people to process traumatic experiences. It involves the use of eye movements and other sensor inputs while a person focuses on the experience of what happened. 

Understandably, this approach works better for some folks than others. You might wonder if you're a good candidate for EMDR therapy. Here is a list of groups of people who are more likely or less so to benefit from working with an EMDR therapist.

Ongoing Post-Traumatic Issues

The main groups that tend to benefit from EMDR therapy are individuals who tend to experience ongoing post-traumatic issues. These may be people who either react poorly to stimuli that trigger feelings or memories of a traumatic event. For example, combat veterans may respond adversely to crowded locations full of strangers poorly because they've been traumatized by moving through unfamiliar crowds during deployments.

The goal of EMDR therapy in a case like this is to focus the person's attention on the trauma and then tie it to a stimulus. Using the stimulus, they may be able to reshape their sense of the experience and reprocess it. Ideally, they can then form better behavioral patterns and responses because they have adaptive coping strategies when they feel post-traumatic stresses build.


Notably, EMDR therapy is very participatory. Consequently, it might not be a great option for people who are emotionally or mentally disengaged. Also, people who feel unwilling to embrace the process and give EMDR therapy a solid try may want to look at other options.

Conversely, EMDR therapy can help people who've struggled to benefit from other options. If you've responded poorly to talk sessions, for example, you might do better with EMDR.

The question of good candidacy can get a little trickier with individuals who have ongoing drug and alcohol issues. On the one hand, there may be benefits for folks who don't what to use pharmaceuticals to treat their conditions. On the other hand, a person usually should participate in and complete drug and alcohol counseling before they try EMDR therapy. Otherwise, there's a risk that they might not fully engage with the process. Similar issues occur with untreated mental illnesses.

Examples of Candidates

Most of the optimal candidates have had specific traumas that they can clearly identify. First responders, doctors, nurses, and aides may benefit. Sex abuse and other crime victims fit the profile too. Individuals facing life-changing or -threatening medical problems also are candidates, as are individuals who've been through natural disasters or other catastrophes.

Contact a local EMDR therapist to learn more.