How EMDR Therapy Can Help Treat Anxiety

anxiety emdr therapy Jul 03, 2024

By:  Jennifer Youdom, LCSW-C

EMDRIA Consultant in Training


Just the word brings a felt sense of this anticipatory emotion. I know for me I can feel the knots in my stomach and the tension throughout my body as I simply think about the concept of anxiety.

While anxiety includes a broad range of topics (including phobias, panic, performance anxiety, OCD, social anxiety, agoraphobia, hoarding, trichotillomania, skin picking, etc.) and can seem like a daunting task to attend to, there are numerous studies showing the effectiveness of EMDR in treating anxiety disorders. Research indicates that participants who engage in EMDR have significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety. Here’s how EMDR therapy can help treat anxiety:

1. Processing Traumatic Memories

Anxiety often stems from unprocessed traumatic memories. EMDR helps individuals process these memories by guiding them through a series of eye movements (or other form of bilateral stimulation) while recalling the traumatic event. This process helps to reframe and desensitize the emotional impact of the memory, reducing anxiety.

2. Reducing Negative Beliefs

Anxiety is frequently fueled by negative beliefs and self-perceptions. EMDR targets these negative beliefs, replacing them with positive and adaptive thoughts.

3. Regulating Emotional Responses

EMDR helps individuals develop better emotional regulation. Phase 2 of EMDR consists of working with clients to develop both positive and negative affect tolerance, increasing body awareness, resourcing, and other strategies that are designed to help clients regulate their emotions and tolerate distress. By processing past trauma in phases 3-8, patients can reduce the intensity and frequency of emotional responses triggered by similar stressors in the present.

4. Desensitization to Anxiety Triggers

Through the reprocessing phase, individuals become less sensitive to anxiety triggers. The repeated bilateral stimulation helps diminish the impact these triggers have on the individual, making it easier to face and cope with them in daily life.

5. Enhancing Coping Mechanisms

EMDR equips individuals with improved coping mechanisms. The therapy includes phases where patients learn to develop and implement coping strategies that can be used outside of sessions to manage anxiety.

While EMDR is useful in treating and reducing anxiety symptoms, it is normal to expect that individuals will experience some anxiety while they are processing targets related to their anxiety. Self-regulating procedures are important to teach in Phase 2 and can include breathing exercises, containment, imagery, exercise, mindfulness, resourcing, etc.

 Overall, EMDR therapy helps individuals with anxiety by targeting and processing the underlying causes, reframing negative beliefs, desensitizing triggers, and enhancing coping mechanisms. This multifaceted approach provides a comprehensive and effective method for reducing anxiety and improving overall emotional well-being.


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