Because of the potential skepticism from patients, Chapman often suggests EMDR as an option to those who have failed with other types of therapies. "When someone can't get over an issue no matter what they have tried, has dreams or flashbacks, or can't move forward in life since an incident took place, then I think about using EMDR," she said, inferring that desperation can get people to a point where "they are willing to try this out."
Ironically, I believe the gimmicky-ness of EMDR was one thing that actually helped it succeed for me where other therapies failed to provide any emotional relief. In past individual and couples therapy sessions, I found myself to be defensive, constantly overanalyzing the therapist's questions and second-guessing most aspects of the treatment experience. But with EMDR I had to make a conscious decision to set aside my cynicism in advance.
Before starting treatments, I told myself, "I am going to make a conscious effort to buy into this because nothing else has worked, and my desire to move on is worth feeling a little out of my comfort zone." The decision to accept the EMDR process immediately shifted my attitude from one of doubt and disillusion to open-mindedness.
After deciding to trust the tappers' potential, I found that there were many benefits to EMDR over other forms of therapy. First, it does not require individuals to repeatedly discuss disturbing events, which can be a lengthy and painful—and sometimes even shameful—part of other treatments. Secondly, the therapist does less pointed question asking and more guiding, saying things like, "Think about this aspect of what happened," which made me feel more in control and comfortable. And lastly, EMDR also takes significantly less time to administer than traditional psychoanalytic or cognitive behavioral therapies.
Chapman says that while each individual is different, in some cases treatment can be completed in as little as three sessions. (Chapman strongly recommends utilizing a therapist who is certified in the EMDR model—one important aspect of certification requires the clinician to maintain continuing education units to stay abreast of new research and to maintain the integrity of the approach. A list of certified therapists can be found through The EMDR International Association.) I was in and out in five sessions. And for at least one of Chapman's patients, A., brevity was an important factor in deciding to try the therapy. "Given that my current marriage was going in a bad direction, I needed to deal with my problems quickly," she said. Even with that expectation, A. was still surprised that "it would work as quickly as it did."
The short time span of EMDR is a huge selling point. Painful memories have power over our lives. Feelings such as resentment and jealousy take up mental space and time that could more productively be spent elsewhere. So not just moving on, but moving on quickly, can feel like an enormous, empowering victory in itself.
However, EMDR, like most forms of therapy, is not without its detractors. A clinical and research psychologist at a Veteran's Administration medical hospital in California said that she actually had an "emotional reaction" to my inquiries about the treatment (I don't think she was referring to positive emotions). Coyne believes that many of the negative opinions about EMDR stem from the fact that EMDR "is a therapy widely adopted by front-line clinicians ... outside of and in the face of opposition from academia."
The biggest criticism from academics seems to be that not everyone buys Shapiro's neuropathway rerouting theory, and thus the need for triggering. The National Center for PTSD notes in its official description of EMDR that while studies have shown that EMDR may help lessen PTSD symptoms, "research also suggests that the eye movements are not a necessary part of the treatment."
Still, EMDR is an empirically supported therapy, which means research has shown it can yield positive results. Even the skeptical VA psychologist conceded (albeit somewhat sarcastically), "There are studies showing people have decrease in symptoms after completing [EMDR]. I see flaws but I also see flaws in traditional academic medicine as well. So, I guess if it works for some, then go ahead and move your eyes, if that is what it takes."
For me, the bottom line is that for those who have tried and failed to work through traumatic interpersonal events in traditional talk therapy, EMDR offers an alternative solution that doesn't take years or require an anguishing digging up of the past. So when it comes to choosing between the certainty of living with chronic pain and heartache caused by a cheating partner and potentially moving on to a new reality where adultery is just one part of a much larger, more positive narrative of your life and relationship, then it's difficult to see what harm can come from giving it a try.