CBT or EMDR – How to Choose the Right Therapy

I am trained in both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). The beauty of this is that I can draw upon each of the modalities at different points in your therapy journey. What I use and when will depend on your treatment needs and goals. Let’s explore how to choose the right therapy in more detail…

What is CBT?

CBT is a NICE approved psychotherapy used to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression. In CBT, we look at how our thoughts, the way we feel, and what we do tend to be closely linked. For example, when you feel down, stressed, or anxious, your thoughts and behaviours can change and become unhelpful, which can lead to you getting stuck in what we call vicious cycles.

For more information read What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

What is EMDR?

Developed by Francine Shapiro in 1987, EMDR is an internationally recognised psychological therapy used in the treatment of trauma. It’s also used to treat other psychological difficulties such as anxiety disorders and depression.

EMDR uses what is known as bilateral stimulation (typically fast eye movements) to replicate the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep phase. REM sleep helps our brains process the events and experiences of the day. EMDR mimics what your body naturally does when you are asleep, but you are completely awake and in control throughout the process.

For more information read All You Need to Know About EMDR.

Similarities and Differences

Both CBT and EMDR aim to reduce emotional distress. They both involve setting goals, working towards them, and learning practical techniques to use when emotionally charged. They’re both highly effective, evidence-based, NICE recommended psychological treatments for anxiety and depression and they should both be delivered by a qualified psychotherapist.

CBT is recommended for symptoms of anxiety and depression. This can include things like panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, health anxiety, social anxiety, low self-esteem, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

EMDR was originally developed to treat PTSD. However, there is emerging evidence that suggests it can also be extremely effective in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression where distressing or overwhelming life events are involved (for example, depression linked to birth trauma, or anxiety after the breakdown of a relationship).

CBT tends to focus on the present. It looks at the unhelpful thinking styles and coping behaviours we have learned throughout our lives and how they can maintain symptoms of anxiety and depression. In contrast, EMDR focuses on overwhelming past experiences and the role they play in current symptoms of anxiety and depression.

For example, if someone developed depression and sought help, CBT would look at the behaviours and thinking styles reinforcing their depression. Things like avoiding socialising and making a lot of negative self-judgments. EMDR would look at what had happened to them in the past that led to them feeling depressed. The focus would then be on processing that experience or set of experiences to change how they feel in the here and now.

EMDR is unique in its use of bilateral stimulation to activate the brains natural process for healing. Research shows that bilateral stimulation takes the vividness and emotional intensity out of distressing experiences.

How to Choose the Right Therapy for You

Start by thinking about your goals for therapy. If you want to alleviate your depression by working on your current activity levels and negative thinking, CBT may be more beneficial. However, if your goal is to work through some of the experiences that led you to feel depressed in the first place, such as a difficult life event, EMDR may be more suitable.

Both EMDR and CBT are focussed on improving your emotional wellness and overall wellbeing, but the journey to get there is quite different. If you’re still unsure which therapy is right for you, contact me to arrange a free consultation. I’d love to discuss the options with you.

Useful Links

What to Expect at Your First Therapy Session

How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

I’ve Finished Therapy, What Happens Next?

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