Is EMDR hypnosis? No!
No! EMDR does not use hypnosis or suggestion. EMDR relies on activating the brain's natural ability to heal traumatic memories.
Just think, many bad things happen to us that do not become traumatic--the brain usually takes care of it. But sometimes the stress is too much, and the memory becomes "stuck," and that's trauma. So, in EMDR, we simply give your amazing brain a second chance to put stuck, hurtful memories fully in the past, permanently healing emotional wounds in a very real, and very natural way.
Let me quote Francine Shapiro, Ph.D, the founder of EMDR:
"EMDR and hypnosis are very dissimilar in their clinical effects, and a large number of hypnosis theorists have noted the distinctions...EMDR clients appear more alert and conscious, and less susceptible to inappropriate suggestion than hypnosis clients. For instance, clinical reports consistently suggest that [EMDR] clients will reject a suggestion that is not ecologically valid [not true]...Likewise, EMDR has not been reported to take away any belief that is true."
Dr. Shapiro goes on to prove this with brain-scan studies:
"EEG [brain scan] readings taken during EMDR show a brain wave pattern within normal waking parameters, whereas pronounced theta waves are reportedly characteristic of hypnotized subjects. Thus, EEG readings indicate that EMDR clients are not in a state of hypnosis."
Dr. Shapiro in this same 2001 text compares the relatively low success rate of treating PTSD with hypnosis with EMDR's amazing 85% success rate. Keep in mind that this was the success rate in 2001. EMDR has come a long way since then, and many studies have been published demonstrating ways to get even better outcomes through advanced techniques. The "Flash Technique," which you can read about on my blog as well, is one of these advanced techniques, as is EMDR 2.0, and a study of EMDR 2.0 in 2019 with 5000 clients demonstrated a PTSD cure rate of 92%, and a 60% total symptom elimination rate.
I can also simply note anecdotally that I see a greater than 85% success rate in my own practice, for clients who are willing to see therapy through. Also anecdotally, I see a success rate approaching 100% with single-event PTSD, sometimes in one or two sessions; I have seen this with many types of single-event PTSD--car accidents, emotional abuse, even rape. Multiple-event-trauma clients can often work their way through one memory each session until there is nothing left.
While I can never guarantee results, there is a reason I am so excited about EMDR and continue to advance in the field--it works, and it empowers clients rather than numbing them or brainwashing them. Successful EMDR clients feel invigorated and filled with new life and potential, and that never gets old for me.
To be fair to hypnotherapists, people have a lot of myths and misinformation about hypnosis, and would be surprised to see how "normal" the real thing looks. It can be part of an effective integrative therapy when combined with EMDR for certain severe issues like dissociative disorders. Like most EMDR therapists practicing at an advanced level, I have been through several hypnotherapy trainings, including an American Society of Clinical Hypnosis training in Washington, DC. In fact, I am listed and insured in NC as a hypnotherapist, although I do not use it as a stand-alone treatment. So hypnotherapy has its place and use, but EMDR has simply proven to be the vastly better first-line treatment for trauma.