EMDR is a helpful therapy technique that many people need. However, not everyone can afford it, and access to therapists is limited in certain regions.

So, can you perform EMDR on yourself, and is it safe?

In this article, we discuss the limitations to consider before you self-administer EMDR.

emdr therapy

What Is EMDR?

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s a type of psychotherapy that can help patients overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

The psychologist Francine Shapiro discovered EMDR in 1989 as she was taking a walk in a park. She noticed that her disturbing thoughts disappeared after she moved her eyes from side to side.

Since then, many studies have suggested that EMDR can help those with PTSD, anxiety, and other phobias.

Today, EMDR is a recognized treatment method by the APA and WHO. The Department of Veterans Affairs also recommends EMDR for treating PTSD.

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

EMDR works by directly altering a person’s thoughts through bilateral stimulation.

During EMDR treatment, a trained therapist will tell you to briefly focus on your trauma and then distract you from the intense emotions.

They may use their fingers or lights to get you to look to your left and right. In some cases, they may also use auditory tones or taps on your hands and legs.

With enough repetition, your brain will begin to desensitize. Afterward, the therapist will use various tools to replace the negative belief.

Following these exercises will make recalling the memory less traumatic over time.

Can You Perform EMDR on Yourself?

If you don’t have access to an EMDR therapist, it’s possible to perform EMDR on yourself.

Virtual EMDR is sometimes available on online therapy sites. You may use these as guides and resources to self-administer EMDR.

A study in 2020 found that self-administered EMDR can be effective in reducing PTSD, anxiety, and depression. In addition, the study found that this type of self-help is safe and highly accessible.

Another study proved that self-administered EMDR intervention was helpful for traumatized children.

So, yes, you can practice EMDR techniques by yourself. This is especially true if you’ve attended an EMDR session in person and know how it works.

That said, we still highly recommend you ask a professional to guide you through the stages of EMDR. While self-administered EMDR is helpful, it has its limitations.

5 Limitations to Consider Before Performing EMDR on Yourself

Below are some of the limitations of performing EMDR on yourself.

1. Lack of Knowledge

No matter how detailed an online EMDR program is, you can’t fully replicate a therapist’s experience at home.

Therapists have tools and techniques beyond a guide on the internet. They can help you recognize signs that you’re being flooded by emotions.

A trained therapist will ask you to step back in case you’re going through dissociation or panic attacks.

2. Dysregulation

Self-administering EMDR may not work if you’re dysregulated and have complex PTSD. This means you’re not functioning well, are depressed, or have suicidal thoughts.

Before you begin EMDR, you should improve your mental health first. You may need to attend cognitive behavior therapies before proceeding.

Remember, the EMDR process requires you to recall traumatic memories. If these memories disable you, you can’t perform EMDR on yourself.

3. Inherent Mental Disorders

EMDR is only effective for people who have experienced a traumatic event that may result in mental issues. It’s not a treatment for those who are born with bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, and major depression.

If you want to treat inherent mental disorders, you should seek other therapies.

4. The Time of the Trauma

When the trauma occurred can affect the effectiveness of EMDR.

If the traumatic event recently happened, you may still not be ready to process your emotions through EMDR. Instead, you should ask your therapist about more appropriate treatment methods.

One way to tell if you’re ready to perform EMDR on yourself is by reflecting. Can you receive advice and refrain from acting on dangerous impulses when triggered?

EMDR works best if you can find a safe space in your mind.

5. Substance Addiction

If you’re suffering from substance addiction, EMDR may not be right for you.

Drugs and other medications can alter your mental state. These substances can interfere with EMDR therapy.

Because of this, you should seek treatment for your substance addiction. You may ask your doctor if you can try EMDR after detoxification.

Are There Risks to EMDR?

Despite all the studies proving EMDR works, some researchers also warn of risks to performing EMDR.

Below are potential dangers you should watch out for.

1. Retraumatization

A few people may experience an increase in stressful memories by practicing EMDR. As you unpack your memories, the trauma may resurface.

You should let your trauma therapist know if you’re experiencing lightheadedness, vivid dreams, and fatigue.

2. Psychosis

One study found that certain patients may experience psychosis during EMDR. In this study, two patients dropped out after they developed negative symptoms.

Still, the researchers reported that paranoid thinking decreased among the rest of the patients.

Tips to Prepare for EMDR

Here are some tips for those who want to start EMDR!

  • Have a Coping Plan: When performing EMDR, you should ensure you have an effective coping plan. Be sure to inform your support system, as EMDR may change your behavior.
  • Choose a Licensed Therapist: Only do EMDR with a licensed therapist or doctor. They should have training and certification in EMDR to safely treat you.
  • Ask Questions: Some therapists have expertise in PTSD, while others focus on anxiety. You should check your therapist’s background and ask questions before starting EMDR.

What Can You Expect During EMDR Therapy?

These are the eight stages you’ll undergo during EMDR therapy.

1. History Taking

Your therapist will ask about your history and memories. They will also examine your struggles to identify which memories you should work on.

This is when you receive a treatment plan tailored to your circumstances.

2. Preparation

The therapist will explain the treatment plan and prepare you for EMDR. You’ll receive resources and tips that can help you handle the stress.

During this time, you establish a trusting relationship with your counselor.

3. Activation

Your therapist activates the target memory and asks you to recall certain images.

You’ll experience the negative emotions from this memory. Afterward, your therapist will ask you about positive beliefs you’d like to have moving forward.

4. Desensitization

Next, your healthcare provider will reactivate the negative memory and help you notice new thoughts and insights. Your therapist will use bilateral stimulation through sight, sounds, or touch.

According to Forbes, this step activates both hemispheres of your brain, creating a soothing effect. You slowly change the bad images until the memory is no longer triggering.

5. Installation

During this phase, your therapist helps you associate the negative memory with a positive belief. For instance, whenever you remember a bad image, you tell yourself you’re safe and in control.

The goal of this step is not to erase the memory but to link it with good thoughts.

6. Body Scan

In the body scan phase, you assess the changes in your body whenever you think of a positive or negative thought. Your tension and symptoms should decrease.

7. Closure

Next, you wind down from the EMDR session and return to the present.

Your therapist will check in with you and ensure you’re in a good place. They may also give you homework and discuss what you should do until your next session.

8. Re-Evaluation

Finally, your therapist will re-evaluate your progress before you begin your next session. You can talk about your future goals and expectations and then review other memories causing you distress.

This is when you’ll find out if you need to take more sessions.


  • Who Is EMDR For?
  • How Long Does EMDR Take?


So, can you perform EMDR on yourself?

The quick answer is yes, it can be helpful to practice EMDR with the guidance of online therapy sites. Those who have a limited budget or people without access to therapies can try EMDR and get positive results.

However, remember that self-administering EMDR has its limitations. A therapist can identify signs of distress that you might miss. They also have the tools and experience to better treat your condition.

If you can attend a few EMDR sessions, we highly recommend you do so. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us to learn about your options!

Published on: 2024-07-05
Updated on: 2024-07-05