Can you do EMDR and hypnosis together?
That’s a question many have been asking on Google recently and the short answer is a categorical yes! In fact, I would suggest they are perfect complements and work much better when used in the correct way together.
Before giving a more full answer to the question, it’s worth taking a few paragraphs to explain EMDR in general terms, as it’s a relatively nascent therapy and far less well-known than hypnosis.
What is EMDR?
EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) is a psychotherapeutic modality that is predominantly used to help victims of trauma. Developed by Francine Shapiro in the 80s, and used with amazing success to treat PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in treatment-resistant Vietnam War vets.
The main active ingredient of EMDR is bilateral stimulation which features in several other similar working techniques including Flash technique and, for the purposes of this article, the term EMDR is used to represent all of them. Bilateral stimulation can take various forms, horizontal eye movements being the most popular, however similar effects can be achieved alternating stimuli between left and right sensory perceptions including auditory and tactile sensations for example tapping alternately on different sides of the body. It’s generally believed that bilateral stimulation helps to process distressing memories by facilitating communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
How does EMDR work?
The exact mechanisms of how EMDR works are still not fully understood, however, a persuasive hypothesis would be that it works by mimicking the processing that takes place during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep better known as dream sleep. One of the main functions of dreaming appears to be the processing of suppressed emotional arousals that are experienced during the course of a day.
To give an example, when one experiences the fight or flight response, these days, it’s typically not acceptable to literally fight or fly so we tend to hold back the response until the night when we dream a metaphor of the experience and within that dream we may metaphorically fight or fly. At the same time as fulfilling our suppressed behavioural imperative, the left and right rapid eye movements may perform the very same bilateral stimulation function of desensitising the memory.
Like hypnosis, EMDR can be applied much more broadly than trauma. Trauma can be viewed as an extreme form of negative conditioning and just as it can clear trauma, bilateral stimulation appears to clear all forms of conditioning including triggered responses for a wide range of issues including triggers for anxiety, sadness and anger, as one may expect, but also for habit and addiction cravings and urges.
So back to answering the question.
EMDR and hypnosis are perfect complements and there is a powerful synergy between them. To understand why, we should ask:
What are the differences between EMDR and hypnosis?
Through its ability to generate powerful visualisations and emotional responses, hypnosis excels at creating something new – new conditioning, new beliefs, new feelings. It’s perhaps not the best tool for removing something negative such as trauma/negative conditioning and beliefs.
While hypnosis can to some extent be used for clearing conditioning, using for example hypno-desensitisation and the NLP rewind technique, the results are generally far slower and less reliable than EMDR. More typically when used in isolation, hypnosis is just recording new positive conditioning over the top of the existing negative conditioning which does not necessarily get rid of it. I like to use the gardening analogy of laying down a new lawn without having cleared the weed roots first. The results can still appear amazing in the beginning however this may not persist over time.
How can EMDR and hypnosis best work together?
EMDR’s conditioning-clearing properties make it more appropriate in the early stages of treatment, at the beginning of a treatment session or often over several sessions before hypnosis is attempted. Later in treatment, once the problematic conditioning has been addressed, then hypnosis servers to replace the cleared conditioning with new helpful conditioning, consolidating change and progress for the future. This thorough approach avoids the resistance that happens when hypnotic suggestions conflict with existing conditioning and beliefs and has the potential to improve success rates, and treatment speeds and promote true lasting change.