EMDR vs. Hypnosis, What are the Differences?


For treating trauma, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder, the common treatments include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy and hypnosis (hypnotherapy). In this post, we’ll look at the differences between EMDR vs. hypnosis for trauma. 

Both therapies have been used in psychotherapy, specifically with trauma victims, to help them overcome their anxiety, stress, or dissociation as a result of the trauma and its memories. However, they work in very different ways. 

While they are different, both these therapies require professionally trained therapists. Not all therapists can perform EMDR or hypnosis. 

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that helps trauma victims get rid of and control distressing memories of the traumatic event. This therapy basically combines trauma processing and external stimulation. 

The therapy expands over eight unique stages or phases that can last for 8 to 12 sessions of 90 minutes. A California-based therapist, Francine Shapiro, designed this therapy. 

The therapy involves gradually remembering the events from the traumatic experience that resulted in PTSD symptoms. In the later stages, the therapist uses external stimuli like guiding eye movements while talking about the traumatic experience. The inclusion of a distraction allows the person to remember and reprocess the memories rather easily than going through immense emotional stress. 

As the therapy progresses and the client moves to further stages, the memories that usually cause stress, anxiety, or other symptoms, stop becoming a trigger. 

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis in psychology is a technique that involves getting the client into a trance-like state (hypnotic state) where they are very relaxed with heightened mental focus. In this state, the psychologist tries to guide the person to a specific goal. For example, the goal can be breaking a harmful thought pattern or doing something positive. 

Also called clinical hypnotherapy or just hypnotherapy, this kind of treatment helps the individual go into the subconscious and root out the problems deep in their mind. For this to work, therapists use different techniques to get the individual to relax. In this trance-like state, they are more open to suggestions that are transformative. 

Hypnotherapy has been controversial in both the world of psychology and medicine. For trauma specifically, hypnosis tries to get to the suppressed memories and change the person’s perception of those memories. As these memories are traumatic and may be blocked, it helps reach them and process them. More importantly, it involves a suggestion to not let the trauma affect their life negatively. 

Differences Between EMDR and Hypnosis

EMDR and hypnotherapy have significant differences both in terms of how they work and what they target. 

Different Approaches to Trauma

The very significant difference between EMDR and hypnosis is how they approach traumatic memories as well as how they root out the underlying thought processes causing the PTSD symptoms. The most obvious difference is the hypnotic state itself, as in EMDR, the individual does not go into a trance-like state. 

While a therapist may utilize relaxing techniques to help the client initially, especially if remembering traumatic events is too painful, it doesn’t solely rely on relaxation. 

EMDR has biophysical components, which allows it to be more universally effective. On the other hand, hypnosis relies on the individual’s reciprocity, at least to some extent. And everyone may not respond to hypnosis so readily, as evidenced by research using brain imaging

Another difference in approach to healing the trauma is that EMDR uses reprocessing techniques while hypnosis doesn’t. EMDR therapy helps the person overcome the emotional barriers to remembering the event carefully and seeing the trauma in a way that doesn’t result in self-blame, anxiety, or distressing thoughts. Hypnosis goes into the deeper consciousness to get to the healing within, which is already there and obstructed by other things. 

EMDR is Designed Specifically for Trauma

Another major difference between the two is that EMDR was specifically designed to treat PTSD or trauma victims. Hypnosis may be used for other reasons besides trauma, although many psychological problems are often linked with trauma. 

That said, EMDR is used as a therapy for treating other psychological problems as well, such as depression or dissociative disorders. However, the research on EMDR is mostly focused on PTSD. 

It’s also important to note that EMDR is a full-fledged therapy, whereas hypnosis is essentially a technique. It may be used in conjunction with other therapies, including EMDR. 

EMDR Lasts Longer Than Hypnotherapy

EMDR can last for up to 12 sessions, and each session typically lasts from 60 to 90 minutes. It has a set protocol that a therapist follows. Some patients may need fewer sessions, and some may even start seeing improvements within a few weeks. 

Hypnosis being a technique, mainly, doesn’t last that long. It can last for just a few sessions, normally two to three. 

This obviously also has an impact on cost, which may make hypnosis a bit more affordable. 

Hypnosis Focuses on Singular Goal

Hypnosis focuses on achieving a single goal through the suggestion part of the therapy, where therapists often repeat a goal again and again while the client is in a hypnotic state. 

This can be problematic for people having different PTSD symptoms or especially people with multiple traumas (complex PTSD). For such individuals, there could be several goals to achieve with therapy. 

EMDR’s overall goal is to help the individual deal with PTSD symptoms and overcome the difficulties caused by trauma and its memories. This is a more comprehensive goal that can address different aspects of the problem. 

EMDR vs. Hypnosis: Which is Better?

Both EMDR and hypnosis have been the center of research, but EMDR is a little more researched, especially for PTSD. As many as 22 studies have found EMDR to be effective in the treatment of PTSD, especially acute trauma. 

On the other side, hypnosis may also alleviate the symptoms of PTSD. In one meta-analysis study, hypnosis showed both short and long-term impact for trauma victims, helping reduce their symptoms. 

As there are multiple factors at play, a person could respond well to one or both of these therapies. EMDR is generally well-received in the psychology world, as hypnosis is still seen as pseudoscience by many. 

Many therapists may try using both EMDR and hypnosis to treat trauma based on the client’s individual scenario. 

EMDR is also more readily available as you can also get it online through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp.com. 

In fact, EMDR can also be self-administered with the help of virtual EMDR tools that use video guides to walk the person through the different stages. In comparison, it’s nearly impossible to hypnotize yourself, so a therapist is essential for hypnotherapy. 

Conclusion

When it comes to EMDR vs. hypnosis, the differences are pretty apparent. They both approach trauma differently and use varying techniques to address the traumatic memories and the emotional distress that comes with it. 

While EMDR’s effectiveness is backed by science, hypnosis needs more research, which is underway. 

At the end of the day, both options are worth trying for recovery. Talk with your therapist to determine which therapy may show better results for your unique therapy needs and goals.

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