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Should I Do EMDR If I Don't Have PTSD?

Updated: Mar 8

PTSD and Trauma Therapy

Trauma-focused therapies are becoming very popular. It’s an exciting time for the therapy profession because we are learning a lot about how trauma can impact mental health. 

EMDR therapy is also growing in popularity, which helps with trauma and PTSD and has been endorsed by celebrities such as Prince Harry and Lady Gaga.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing was founded in 1987 and is one of the most popular approaches for overcoming trauma. It is client-centered, and helps your brain to reprocess memories so that you are no longer held back by your past.

But with all this talk about trauma, you may be wondering if you actually have it?

And should you do EMDR if you don’t have PTSD?

Trauma vs. PTSD

Websters defines trauma as:

a disordered state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury. 

PTSD is a specific clinical diagnosis for trauma. And though it’s one of the most severe results of a trauma, it’s not the most common. PTSD involves many symptoms that impact your ability to function. But more typically a traumatic event can lead to issues such as ADHD, addiction, depression, or anxiety. Even outside of mental health disorders, trauma contributes to typical issues like overworking, high stress, or codependent relationships. 

We can experience these issues and not realize that they are resulting from a traumatic experience. Actually this is quite common, and it’s the job of the therapist to help identify any traumatic roots that may be contributing to our current struggles.

Trauma is More Common Than You Think

The “disordered state” of trauma often comes from a moment of shock, when we’re unprepared to handle something for the first time. Examples of this could be sexual abuse, or a car accident, although these incidents are less common for the general population.

But the general population does share a specific type of trauma, and those come from our childhood.

Think about how many firsts we experience as children living in an adult world, and with first times comes an increase that we will experience shocks we are unprepared for. Events that seem insignificant to adults can totally disrupt a child's world, such as wetting the bed, or experiencing bullying and teasing. These occur as shocks, particularly the first times they happen, and children can walk away from these experiences with distorted takeaways about their self worth.

Negative Self-Beliefs

When these shocks happen which we are unprepared for, a lesson is formed. If we have proper support from others in these situations, then we can have a healthy lesson.

But when that's not the case, we walk away with an internalized bias such as “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve love.” Now this may not be literally how we think about ourselves as adults, but functions more as a default setting that guides what we do and don't do, who we seek out, how much risk we take, etc.

Simply put, if you have a prevalent negative self belief, there is an origin point for that belief. It didn’t just come out of the blue and you weren’t born with it, so it was learned through experience. With EMDR, we can locate those early experiences and process them so that your adult brain can develop a more rational conclusion.

Should I do EMDR?

Here are some signs that EMDR may be useful:

  • If you have diagnosed PTSD

  • If you have negative self-beliefs that have impacted your ability to healthily function

  • If you have memories that feel disturbing

  • If you feel "stuck" in normal talk therapy, and that something deeper needs to happen


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