EMDR vs DBT: Comparing the Two Approaches for Anxiety

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In the complex maze of mental health interventions, two therapeutic approaches stand out for their unique and effective methods in tackling anxiety: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

This article is set to explore these therapies, providing a comparison toto highlight their distinctive attribute, effectiveness, and application in assuaging anxiety disorders.

EMDR, a transformative approach that helps patients process traumatic memories, and DBT, a cognitive-behavioral therapy aimed at teaching coping skills, both offer promising avenues for individuals grappling with debilitating anxiety.

As we journey through this study, we'll reveal the way these therapies, each with their own unique strengths, add to the diverse spectrum of anxiety treatment.


Anxiety Therapists in Colorado

Jacquelynne Sils, LPCC

Jacquelynne Sils, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Stephanie Kol, LPCC

Stephanie Kol, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 203-7021
Megan Brausam, LPC

Megan Brausam, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 481-3518
Molly Jameson, LCSW

Molly Jameson, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Alex Wiley, LPC

Alex Wiley, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Dr. Alana Fenton Ph.D., PSYC

Dr. Alana Fenton Ph.D., PSYC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Jessica Titone, LPCC

Jessica Titone, LPCC

Colorado
(720) 437-9089
Joshua Goldberg, LPCC

Joshua Goldberg, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Kristen Yamaoka-Los, LPC

Kristen Yamaoka-Los, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 481-3518
Melissa Johnston, LPC

Melissa Johnston, LPC

Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Michele Ames-Hodges, PsyD, LPC

Michele Ames-Hodges, PsyD, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Dominique Schweinhardt, MA, LPCC, LPP

Dominique Schweinhardt, MA, LPCC, LPP

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Felicia Gray, MS, LPC

Felicia Gray, MS, LPC

Pueblo, Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Kelsey Motley, LPCC

Kelsey Motley, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Mikayla Braukhoff, LPCC

Mikayla Braukhoff, LPCC

Colorado
(720) 449-4121


Comparing EMDR and DBT

Approach

EMDR and DBT, while both effective for treating anxiety, differ significantly in their approach.

EMDR focuses on the individual's past traumatic experiences and how these impact their current psychological state.

It involves eight phases of treatment, including history taking, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation, typically spread over multiple sessions.

The key element is bilateral stimulation (often eye movements), which is believed to help the brain process traumatic memories.

On the other hand, DBT emphasizes the development of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.

It combines individual therapy, group skills training, phone coaching, and a consultation team for the therapist, making it a more comprehensive approach. 


Duration

In terms of duration, both therapies require a commitment of time, but this can vary depending on the individual's needs and the severity of their anxiety.

EMDR can sometimes bring about change more rapidly due to its direct focus on processing traumatic memories, with some individuals experiencing relief after a few sessions.

However, it's important to note that for complex trauma, the therapy might need to be ongoing.

DBT, however, is typically a longer-term treatment, with standard programs running for approximately 6 months to a year, as it aims to teach and reinforce new skills.



Effectiveness

When looking at effectiveness, research has shown both therapies can be beneficial for those struggling with anxiety.

EMDR has been found particularly effective for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and certain types of anxiety linked to past traumas.

Meanwhile, DBT has been widely recognized for its success in treating borderline personality disorder (BPD), but it's also shown promise in reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.

It's essential to remember that individual responses to therapy can vary, and what works best will depend on the person's unique situation and needs.


Factors to Consider When Choosing Between EMDR and DBT

The nature of your distress

If your anxiety is primarily rooted in past trauma that you find yourself continually reliving, EMDR may be more suitable.

On the other hand, if your anxiety manifests as intense emotions, self-destructive behaviors, or relationship issues, DBT may be more effective.

Your comfort with exposure

EMDR involves recalling and processing traumatic memories, which can be emotionally intense. If you're uncomfortable with this level of exposure, DBT might be a better fit as it focuses more on coping skills and emotional regulation.

Your need for skills training:

If you struggle with handling negative emotions or maintaining healthy relationships, DBT's emphasis on skill-building could be beneficial.
The severity and complexity of your symptoms

Both therapies can help with anxiety, but if your symptoms are severe or you have multiple mental health issues (such as PTSD combined with a personality disorder), a more comprehensive approach like DBT might be advisable.


Your time commitment:

Consider how much time you can commit to therapy. EMDR might bring about quicker results for some people, while DBT generally requires a longer-term commitment.

Therapist availability

Not all therapists are trained in EMDR or DBT, so the availability of trained professionals in your area could influence your choice.

Personal preference

Ultimately, the best therapy is one that you feel comfortable with and committed to. It can be helpful to meet with therapists who specialize in each method to get a sense of which approach feels right for you.


Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1: Which therapy is more effective for anxiety?

A: Both therapies have been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, but their effectiveness can depend on the type of anxiety and its root cause. 

EMDR has been found particularly effective for anxiety linked to past traumas, while DBT has shown promise in reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.


Q2: Can I do both EMDR and DBT at the same time?

A: It's possible to incorporate elements of both therapies into a treatment plan, but this would depend on individual needs and should be discussed with a mental health professional.


Q3: Are there any side effects or risks associated with EMDR and DBT?

A: With EMDR, some individuals may experience heightened anxiety or vivid, realistic dreams as they process their trauma. 

In DBT, the commitment to confronting and changing behaviors can sometimes be emotionally challenging. 


Q4: How do I know which therapy is right for me?

A: Choosing the right therapy is a personal decision that should be made based on your unique needs, symptoms, and circumstances. 

Consider factors like the nature of your distress, your comfort with exposure therapy, your need for skills training, the severity of your symptoms, your time availability, and therapist availability. 


Q5: Is EMDR or DBT more suitable for children or teenagers?

A: Both therapies can be adapted for younger populations. EMDR can be used to help children process traumatic events, while DBT has been modified into a program for adolescents who struggle with self-harm or suicidal thoughts. 

The choice between the two would depend on the individual's specific needs and should be discussed with a mental health professional.


Q6: Can I do these therapies on my own, or do I need a therapist?

A: Both EMDR and DBT should be conducted under the guidance of a trained professional. While there are certain elements of DBT, like mindfulness exercises, that you can practice on your own, the full therapy requires a trained therapist to be most effective.


Q7: Are EMDR and DBT covered by insurance?

A: Coverage can vary widely depending on your specific insurance plan. It's important to check with your insurance provider to see if these therapies are covered. 



Conclusion

Both EMDR and DBT offer viable approaches to treating anxiety, with their effectiveness influenced by individual needs and circumstances.

EMDR addresses anxiety rooted in traumatic experiences, using bilateral stimulation to process these memories. DBT, on the other hand, provides skills training in areas like mindfulness and emotional regulation to manage intense emotions and improve interpersonal relationships.

The choice between these therapies depends on various factors, including the nature of your distress, your comfort with exposure therapy, your need for skills training, the severity of your symptoms, and your time availability.

In essence, the right therapy is one that aligns with your personal circumstances and feels comfortable for you.

As always, it's important to discuss these options with a mental health professional to make an informed decision about your treatment path.

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February 25th, 2024

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