Is EMDR the same as hypnosis? What are the differences/similarities?
The American Journal of Hypnosis published a special issue on the use of EMDR and hypnosis. An introductory article by the editor and past president of the American Association of Clinical Hypnosis directly addressed the issue: “While it has been argued against categorizing hypnosis as a specific type of treatment method (e.g., Fischolz, 1995; 1997a; 1997b; 2000; Fischholz & Spiegel, 1983), this is not the case for EMDR. Like psychoanalysis, EMDR is both an evolving theory about how information is perceived, stored and retrieved in the human brain and a specific treatment method based on this theory (Shapiro, 1995, 2001). In fact, EMDR is a very unique treatment method, which like other types of treatment/methods/techniques (e.g. psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapy, behavior, cognitive-behavioral therapy, ego-state therapy) can also be incorportated with hypnosis (Hammond, 1990).
We note there are some distinctive differences between hypnosis and EMDR, which we would like to briefly highlight. First, one of the major uses of hypnosis among clinical practitioners is to deliberately begin by inducing in the patient an altered state of mental relaxation. In contrast, when beginning EMDR mental relaxation is not typically attempted. In fact, deliberate attempts are often actually made to connect with an anxious (i.e. an emotionally disturbing as opposed to relaxed) mental state.
Second, therapists often use hypnosis to help a patient develop a single, highly focused state of aroused receptivity (Spiegel & Spiegel, 1978). In contrast, with EMDR attempts are made to maintain a duality of focus on both positive and negative currently held self-referencing beliefs, as well as the emotional arousal brought about by imaging the worst part of a disturbing memory. However, in this sense, EMDR does have a similarity to Spiegel’s (Spiegel & Spiegel, 1978) split-screen cognitive restructuring technique.
Third, one of the proposed effects of hypnotizing a person is that they will have a decrease in their generalized reality orientation (GRO: Shor, 1979). This induced decrease in a person’s GRO is often utilized in order to promote an increase in fantasy and imagination, perhaps by capitalizing on an increase in trance logic (Orne, 1977). In contrast, in EMDR attempts are made towards repeatedly grounding the patient by referencing current feelings and body sensations to prevent the patient from drifting away from reality. Specific encouragement/inducement is made towards rejecting previously irrational/self-blaming beliefs in favor of a newly, reframed positive belief with an increase in subjective conviction about that belief. Shapiro and Forrest (1997) and Nicosia (1995) have also noted additional differences between hypnosis and EMDR.