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Can EMDR Help the LGBTQIA+ Community?

February 7, 2024 Daniel Lyons

I recently realized that eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) could be useful for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual plus (LGBTQIA+) community. I had the opportunity to be trained in EMDR as a therapist. This is a therapy for helping individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to heal from their trauma. In addition to being a provider of EMDR, I recently started going through EMDR myself. These experiences made me start to think about EMDR as a modality that may help members of the LGBTQIA+ community in healing from their traumas.

I also started to do some research as to whether or not EMDR is an effective modality for members of the LGBTQ+ community to heal from trauma, anxiety, grief, and more. There are many issues that EMDR can help queer people deal with, and today, I will discuss what this therapy modality is and how it may benefit the LGBTQIA+ community. This therapy is different than traditional talk therapy and may be an appropriate option for folks who feel they have stagnated with traditional talk therapy.

What Is EMDR Therapy? 

The Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing International Association (EMDRIA) trains EMDR therapists and oversees the standards for the clinical use of EMDR. The EMDRIA defines EMDR as:

"a structured therapy that encourages the patient to focus briefly on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an extensively researched, effective psychotherapy method proven to help people recover from trauma and PTSD symptoms."1

Much of EMDR centers around the re-wiring of the brain around negative cognitions that people hold about traumatic memories and replaces these negative cognitions with more positive ones.2

How Can EMDR Benefit the LGBTQIA+ Community?

It's no secret that members of the LGBTQIA+ community often have significant trauma. A lot of our trauma centers around experiences of rejection and oppression in our communities, and in more extreme cases, we may have even been victims of violence and hate crimes.

Many LGBTQIA+ folk like myself also have religious trauma that stems from experiences where we were rejected, judged, and shamed by communities of faith that we come from. Some of us, like myself, have undergone conversion therapy in our lives. These experiences can be damaging and create shame-filled narratives in our brains that can be hard to undo. Eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy has helped me with this. In my own life, I have just started to use EMDR to process my trauma related to the religious community I come from, and I have found it incredibly useful for undoing messages of shame that I internalized, especially around my sexuality. Through EMDR, I have begun to unlearn the belief that I am bad and have begun to replace it with the knowing that I am simply human and there is nothing wrong with me. 

Moreover, the psychological community is catching onto the fact that EMDR can be helpful for the LGBTQIA+ community. In the book Cultural Competence and Healing Culturally Based Trauma by Mark Nickerson, there are numerous chapters devoted to how EMDR can be an affirming treatment for queer and transgender individuals.3 He writes about ways in which EMDR can help dismantle prejudice and build resilience in clients from marginalized backgrounds and devotes three whole chapters to EMDR in clients with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. The EMDRIA also affirms the use of EMDR in the LGBTQIA+ community and states that it can be a helpful modality for healing from religious trauma, specifically. 

I want to state that while EMDR is an incredible treatment that is helping many people from a variety of backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and genders, it is also a difficult treatment.4 It is not easy to go through, and I have also experienced many painful emotions as I sift through my trauma and process it. I recommend that you have a strong support network, many coping skills at your disposal, and a strong relationship with your therapist before embarking upon the reprocessing of memories.

This therapy comes in stages, and it's really important to build grounding skills in the early stages before delving into reprocessing. Jumping into reprocessing too soon can cause distress for some people with trauma.6 Many people I have spoken to who are in the LGBTQIA+ community and tried EMDR quit after a few sessions because they felt it was too intense. In these cases, I think therapists failed to prepare them for the side effects of EMDR. Please discuss these fully with your therapist before embarking upon this journey. 

Sources

  1. EMDR International Association. (2024, February 1). About EMDR therapy - EMDR International Association. https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/
  2. EMDR International Association. (2024, January 8). Experiencing EMDR Therapy - EMDR International Association. https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/experiencing-emdr-therapy/
  3. Cultural competence and healing culturally based trauma with EMDR therapy. (2016). In Springer eBooks. https://doi.org/10.1891/9780826142870
  4. Cultural competence and healing culturally based trauma with EMDR therapy. (2016). In Springer eBooks. https://doi.org/10.1891/9780826142870
  5. Kim Howard. (2023, November 13). EMDR Therapy with LGBTQ Populations. EMDR International Association. https://www.emdria.org/blog/emdr-therapy-with-lgbtq-populations/
  6. EMDR International Association. (2024b, January 8). Experiencing EMDR Therapy - EMDR International Association. https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/experiencing-emdr-therapy/

APA Reference
Lyons, D. (2024, February 7). Can EMDR Help the LGBTQIA+ Community? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/thelifelgbt/2024/2/can-emdr-help-the-lgbtqia-community



Author: Daniel Lyons

Daniel Lyons (they/he) is a writer and mental health therapist who is passionate about the intersections of gender, sexuality, and mental health, and he lives in Oakland, California, with his service dog Noche. Find Daniel on Instagram and Medium.

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