What About EMDR? Q&A with Dr. Browning

Hardly a week goes by without someone calling our office and asking, "Do you offer EMDR therapy there?…I keep hearing a lot about it and was wondering if you do EMDR?" Or, "Can you tell me why you don't provide EMDR therapy because other Christian counselors offer it?"

So … this interview with Dr. Browning, our clinical director, should answer your questions about this form of therapy:


Question: 'First of all, can you tell us exactly what EMDR is, and how does it work?"

Answer: "EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a technique of psychotherapy invented by Dr. Francine Shapiro that she found quite helpful in dealing with her own past traumatic experiences-the sudden death of her little sister at age 9, and her own diagnosis with cancer at age 30.

She discovered one day walking in the park that when memories of either painful event came to mind, if she deliberately forced her eyes to look first right, then left, this seemed to reduce both her feelings of anxiety and depression temporarily.

EMDR is now used by some therapists to help clients experience some level of relief from painful emotional reactions to deeply disturbing things that have happened in the past; things they never felt they could control, and memories of those past events still cause them to feel overwhelmed or troubled.

What happens in EMDR therapy is a therapist teaches the client to relax, feel safe, and intentionally bring up into conscious awareness some life-disturbing event that they would rather forget forever, along with painful trigger emotions for each memory.

While holding the memory of all that took place in a single painful event in their imagination, the therapist instructs them to (1) be aware that they can experience this event in their mind and not lose control, (2) they can see themselves taking control of the event itself, (3) move their eyes to the right or left and at the same time, experience the emotional reactions decrease as they gain a new sense of being in control.

Some EMDR therapists use finger tapping right and left, or tones in a headset right and left to accomplish the same reprocessing from "I can't handle this!" to "I feel more in control now and less anxious."

The client is given a lot of homework and trained how to do this on their own either daily or several times a week.

I believe the reason some clients find EMDR an appealing method is that it gives them a sense of being in control and self-sufficient in managing old hurts that still haunt them. The key word is control.

That's the basic idea of EMDR therapy and it does seem to help some clients feel less vulnerable to past emotional pain and haunting memories.

Although there are some research studies showing EMDR to be effective in dealing with severe trauma from the past, none of these studies have demonstrated changes that endure over time, much like the results with hypnosis.


Q: I know that some Christian therapists use EMDR in their work. Why do you not recommend it, nor use this technique in your Mindset-Reset Therapy here, since it does seem to work for some clients?

A: "Most forms or methods of counseling or psychotherapy are shown to produce some positive results for some clients. And all those techniques, like the use of medication, are effective in producing some level of relief from emotionally painful symptoms or problems.

But like hypnosis, or deep breathing exercises, or insight, or "getting in touch with your feelings" and other therapy methods, most of these strategies seem to produce only temporary improvement in coping skills - few of them produce long-lasting healing, change or real victory.

But the primary reason we don't use EMDR or hypnosis or other self-focused method of care is because we believe that God's Word specifically discourages those practices for those serious about their relationship with Christ, and all that we do here for Christian clients requesting Biblical care is based solidly and only on God's Word.

I'll give you just a few examples from Scripture for why we discourage the use of methods like EMDR:

• "He must increase, but I [self] must decrease." John 3:30

• "Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own [self's] understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths." Prov. 3;5-6

• "Do not remember the former things [events from the past],
nor consider the things of old [past memories],
Behold, I will do a new thing,
now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it [experience it]?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers [of healing] in the desert." Isa. 43:18-19

• "Remember what happened to Lot's wife [looking back]." Luke 17:32

• "A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself." Prov. 18:2

• "...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.' 1 Cor. 10:31

• "...But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need [these things], and he will give them to you if you give Him first place in your life and live as He wants you to." Matt. 6:32-33

• "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly...The Lord brings the counsel of the [world] to nothing;
He makes the plans [and methods] of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever…" Ps. 1:1 • Ps. 33:10-11

Key questions that settle the issue for us include these:

- Does EMDR make God the focus or source of solutions?
- Does EMDR increase or decrease our focus on self?
- Does EMDR encourage us to lean on our own understanding?
- Does EMDR teach us to analyze self and self's feelings?
- Does EMDR encourage us to focus on things in the past?
- Does EMDR in any way cause us to invite God into the solution?
- Does EMDR cause us to depend on God first for results?
- Does EMDR make us more self-reliant or Spirit-confident?
- Does EMDR lead us to bring God glory, or focus on self relief?

The answers to those questions is the foundation and framework for how we view techniques like EMDR.

In our practice and ministry, we look at all problems, afflictions, symptoms and issues through the lens of Scripture to bring about lasting solutions for our clients.

At the same time, our goal is to help those we see in counseling or coaching to develop intimacy with the Holy Spirit … a TLC RELATIONSHIP: trusting, loving, connected, so they can "invite to think right" in getting victory in this problem, and future challenges as well.

We call this The Mindset-Reset Solution.

It is our experience over 40-plus years that this is the only way to empower and equip a client to not just get real victory over their current problems, but to experience long-lasting change as they grow in their relationship with God in finding those results-a God-pleasing solution.

But the bottom line for any child of God considering this method of counseling or therapy should be this: "LORD, what would You have me do?" Then listen. Then do what the Holy Spirit reveals to be His will for you, His beloved child.

You'll never go wrong with that plan of action!

As someone has wisely said, "Never allow the good to rob you of the best" … especially when it comes to your own peace of mind and your walk with Jesus.

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask.


Q: "Have any of your own clients had EMDR therapy before coming to you or your staff?"

A: Oh yes, several. Let me share with you one client's first-hand experience in her own words . . .

"I am so thankful you are sharing this!!! Remember before the Lord brought us to you? I had a so-called "Christian counselor" doing EMDR on me. I had no clue what it even was, I just trusted the counselor because she was recommended by the church and this was my first experience in a counselor's office. But it only made my trauma way worse in the long run and all I did was focus on what happened to me as a child, and the incredible pain of my parents divorce, which I think made things much worse off for me then before I started the EMDR. Yikes! Thank you Lord for Your mercy and getting me out of there and bringing us into this office. Not a day goes by that I am forever thankful! Lord protect all the souls that are under the counsel of EMDR and many other forms of therapy that only bring glory to self and force people to wallow in awful past pain." RG

Today she gives all the glory to God that her deep wounds from her childhood are replaced with His "peace that passes all understanding" by the truth that has made her "free indeed."

Hope you found this helpful.

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask our staff.

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