For most mental illnesses, there are solutions present in the form of therapy. Whether it’s trauma, anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder, you can treat your condition with the help of scientifically researched therapies. Two of such well-established and popular psychotherapies are cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
In this article, we’ll talk about both of these options in regard to different mental conditions and issues people face. While you can go with one of these, in many cases, therapists prefer to use both in order to get better results. You can find all kind of therapist that you need online on platform such as BetterHelp.com.
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Looking for a specialist?
Get matched with a CBT or an EMDR therapist online.
Price Comparison Between Physical & Online therapy for CBT & EMDR
Traditonal CBT (Cognitive behavior therapy) therapy sessions are normally 50 minutes long and cost between $100 and $200 per session. Whereas, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy can cost between $100 and $300 every session.
On the other hand, CBT and EMDR therapy costs with BetterHelp around $60 to $90 each week which includes one live session. Every four weeks, you will be billed. For monthly therapy, the firm charges $240 to $360.
Not only is virtual therapy convenient, but as shown above it is often more affordable than in-person therapy sessions.
$60 to $90 per week
(One live session per week)
$100 and $200 per session
$240 to $360 per month
$100 and $300 every session
What is CBT?
Cognitive behavior therapy or CBT is a widely used form of psychotherapy that aims to identify and process negative thought processes and behavior patterns.
CBT is essentially a talk therapy where the therapist communicates with the client. However, it also involves a lot of techniques that address specific issues and impart coping techniques.
As a highly successful therapy in the field, CBT is used for a variety of mental conditions and issues, including but not limited to depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and addiction.
It can also help with other issues like relationship problems, grief, chronic pain, low self-esteem, and stress.
The core concept of CBT is that our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions are all interconnected. In simpler words, our thoughts guide our behavior, but our thoughts and emotions can be changed, and by extension, our behavior.
CBT has a broad range in terms of techniques and uses. There are also other therapies that come under CBT and may be described as a type of CBT. These include:
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Dialectal behavior therapy (DBT)
- Exposure and response therapy (ERT)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
What is EMDR?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has a specific protocol, which was pioneered by Francine Shapiro. Its highlighting component is the use of bilateral stimulation, often through eye movement from side to side, audio in alternating ears, or taping on alternate sides.
EMDR was essentially designed for treating trauma and PTSD. However, its use today has expanded to other mental conditions as well, specifically those that may arise as a result of trauma.
It’s different from traditional talk therapy in that it does not involve a lot of discussion about the past, present, or future. The focus is on allowing the person to process troubling memories and issues without being burdened by the emotional stress that comes with it. The bilateral stimulation helps with that as a distraction for the mind.
In a way, EMDR targets memories and how they are stored in the brain. EMDR stimulates a learning process for the person, helping them process problematic memories that their brain has not been able to process.
Most definitions for EMDR are in the context of trauma and PTSD, which is why there’s so much discussion of traumatic memories. However, its use for other conditions is also well-researched.
Unlike CBT, EMDR has a structured path with designated phases, eight in total. The therapy can last for up to 12 sessions. Similar to CBT, it helps people learn coping techniques to manage their symptoms better in the future.
Looking for a specialist?
Get matched with a CBT or an EMDR therapist online.
CBT vs. EMDR: Which Is Better?
When comparing CBT with EMDR, it’s important to take into consideration the condition or purpose the therapy is being used for. Every condition is different and may have varying symptoms.
Therefore, for a better understanding of the differences between EMDR and CBT, let’s talk about the different conditions they are used for and how they fare against one another.
Trauma and PTSD
For treating trauma and PTSD, EMDR is a therapy endorsed by reputable organizations like the American Psychiatric Association. It was designed to reprocess trauma and allow the victims to live a healthier and happier life.
Numerous studies have compared the use of CBT and EMDR for treating PTSD patients. One study published in Cureus in 2018 concluded that EMDR is better than CBT for reducing PTSD symptoms, especially anxiety.
EMDR isn’t just effective at treating PTSD, but it can also treat it quicker than CBT, which may take months to start showing progress. The very protocol of EMDR starts working on the traumatic memories and experiences after one or two initial sessions. In fact, some people may see progress in just a few weeks.
Some studies have also compared EMDR therapy with medication treatment, with one study comparing EMDR with a drug called fluoxetine. The patients who received psychotherapy, i.e., EMDR, showed more sustained progress in the reduction of PTSD and depression symptoms.
One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is anxiety, which is something both CBT and EMDR can address. How effective they can be may depend on a number of factors.
While research shows that both CBT and EMDR can help reduce anxiety, EMDR is a better option for those who have developed an anxiety disorder as a result of trauma. Many times anxiety disorders like panic disorder or OCD are linked with traumatic experiences.
A randomized control trial published in Frontiers in Psychology noted that EMDR was found to be just as effective as CBT for the treatment of panic disorder.
The Cureus meta-analysis study mentions that five studies with 239 participants showed that EMDR provided better than CBT for reducing anxiety. Nevertheless, CBT is frequently used for treating anxiety disorders as well as PTSD.
It’s clear that both these therapies have merit when it comes to treating anxiety, in particular, whether or not it’s linked with trauma.
Depression is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions in the world. Many people with clinical depression never receive the help they need and deserve. Psychotherapy, in general, can help depression patients manage their symptoms better.
In this regard, CBT is a frequently used form of therapy for depression. Its effectiveness for reducing depression symptoms is well-researched, but there are limitations as well. CBT alone may not be effective for cases of severe depression marked with psychosis or suicidal tendencies.
That said, the CBT techniques can be helpful in helping people with depression integrate into society and learn more about themselves.
As for EMDR, there hasn’t been much research on EMDR’s effectiveness on depression unrelated to trauma. However, one pilot study in Europe compared the use of EMDR with CBT for recurrent depression.
The outcome of this controlled trial indicated that EMDR could be a viable treatment option for depression. However, more research is needed.
Addiction (Substance Abuse Disorders)
While CBT’s use for treating addiction is common, the use of EMDR is fairly new and still somewhat under-researched. However, many experts believe that EMDR has the potential to treat substance abuse patients as well using the same mechanisms as it does for trauma and anxiety.
We don’t have much conclusive research as such, but one research article published in the Journal of EMDR Practice & Research explored in detail the potential of EMDR. It discusses two approaches: trauma-focused and addiction-focused. It mentions that the latter is still uninvestigated.
What this means is that EMDR hasn’t been studied well for the treatment of addiction directly without the context of trauma, as compared with CBT.
Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are fairly common in the US and many parts of the world. As eating disorders are directly linked with the thinking process and uncontrollable behavior of the person, a therapy like CBT is inherently effective at treating it.
In fact, an enhanced form of CBT has been adopted as the preferred treatment for bulimia and is also being prescribed for other eating disorders, including anorexia. It has shown favorable results helping people understand their disorder better and learn techniques to control the symptoms.
Therefore, there’s ample evidence to support the efficacy of CBT for treating eating disorders.
Now, EMDR intervention is also gradually gaining popularity with therapists to treat eating disorders. However, we have yet to see more clinical trials to compare it directly with CBT.
Researchers have come up with specialized protocols of EMDR for the treatment of eating disorders, as the conventional protocol is designed for PTSD, anxiety, and other trauma-related conditions.
Final Thoughts: How to Decide?
It basically comes down to the condition you have and the severity of it. For conditions like PTSD and anxiety, EMDR is evidently better and faster than CBT. However, that does not mean CBT doesn’t work at all.
For other conditions, although EMDR is being used, the supportive evidence is limited as compared with the evidence for CBT, which is essentially the gold standard in the world of psychotherapy.
Ultimately, you should make your decision after consulting with a qualified therapist. They can assess your condition and symptoms and only after that guide you as to which therapy may work better for you. In many cases, they may recommend getting both, especially if you have complex issues.
If you’re going with online therapy, going with a platform like BetterHelp.com can be an easy way to find the right therapist and best therapy, as they match you with one based on your specific information.
Writer for Therapy Hunter as well as psychology
professor at Malta University.