Can EMDR Therapy Help Improve Athletic Achievements?


As an athlete, one of the last methods of treatment you’d think to improve your athletic achievements is using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. However, recent studies have proven that EMDR might be vital to reaching peak performance in athletes. EMDR takes care of the physical and mental/emotional side of being an athlete.

EMDR Therapy can help improve athletic achievements by reducing performance anxiety and enhancing higher skill performance. Reduced anxiety in athletes reduces muscle tension and stress. Enhanced skills can help athletes focus by increasing their attention span and reducing fear of failure.

If you’re a struggling athlete, you can likely benefit from EMDR therapy, but several factors determine whether EMDR therapy is right for you. In this article, we’ll give you a breakdown of who can benefit from EMDR therapy and how it can help improve your athletic achievements.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychological treatment that helps link the brain’s neural pathways by associating a traumatic memory with new responses. It was first developed in 1987 by D. Francine Shapiro to help clients who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

However, over the years, research has shown that EMDR therapy could help with other life applications, including peak performance and academic achievements.

Unlike psychotherapy, where you talk about your trauma, EMDR focuses on adjusting your reactions to trauma, meaning that any psychological trauma or negative feelings will be linked to positive thoughts and emotions. The outcome of EMDR therapy is to resolve both physical and emotional trauma and to develop a positive response to stress or other negative feelings.

How Does EMDR Therapy Relate to Athletic Achievements?

It’s not uncommon for athletes to be under pressure to perform and rank higher in sports. Repeated exposure to high-stress situations can have a negative impact on their mental and physical health, which can affect their ability to perform and will prevent them from reaching their goals.

Now, you may be wondering how EMDR therapy can translate into improving athletic achievements. Over the years, EMDR therapy has been found effective in helping with a wide range of applications, including sports. In medical terminology, psychologists refer to EMDR treatment as assisting athletes in reaching ‘peak performance.’

Peak Performance & EMDR PEP Protocol

Peak performance refers to an athlete’s ability to reach optimized performance in their field. When using EMDR on athletes, a psychologist will focus on negative emotions or events hindering the athletics performance. Generally, EMDR is only used to treat PTSD, but EMDR has been found to be effective for mood disorders, negative emotions, and trauma.

However, when paired with peak performance as the outcome, the therapy focuses on rewiring negative emotions to a more positive outlook to increase performance, which is referred to as EMDR Performance Enhancement Psychology Protocol (EMDR-PEP). It focuses on addressing anxiety, self-defeating beliefs, PTSD, behavioral inhibition, and any other negative outlooks resulting from performing arts, performance, or daily life.

Emotions Tied to Reduced Performance

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Protocol (EMDR-PEP) specifically targets negative emotions tied to the sport. There are a handful of negative feelings one can feel when it comes to athletic achievements. 

Here is a quick breakdown of the different types of negative emotions EMDR-PEP targets:

Self-Defeating Beliefs

A self-defeating belief is where you view yourself in a negative light, making you believe that you’ve already lost, which can demotivate you from performing at your best. Self-defeating thoughts are one of the most common reasons athletes experience anxiety. 

Behavioral Inhibition

Behavioral inhibition generally happens when an individual is introduced to a new environment. For sports, this can be changing teams, schools, or even coaches. Being in a new environment can cause both distress and nervousness. 

Lack of Focus

A lack of focus occurs for several reasons, including distractions, lack of sleep, or other events happening in life. However, a recent study published by the Center for Peak Performance found that EMDR helps improve brain function and performance.

Psychological Recovery of an Injury

An injury can cause several negative emotions, especially when recovery could take a few months or even a few years. EMDR-PEP has been linked to build stronger resolve and reduce feelings of sadness, irritation, and anger to the event that caused the injury. With proper physical therapy to accompany psychological treatment, one can become mentally more vital to get back into the sport.


Procrastination can occur in athletes who are experiencing too much stress in their lives, which can be from a blend of work and school, along with meeting their fitness goals. Additionally, other factors include poor time management skills or feelings of perfectionism.


Setbacks for athletes include physical injury, hardships, or even losses in a tournament. However, longer-term hardships may require EMDR therapy if the hardship has a negative impact on their athletic performance. 

A study found that EMDR therapy had been found to effectively reduce anxiety, adverse symptomatology and helped athletes move past their athletic trauma.

The EMDR-PEP Protocol Process

Improving athletic performance through EMDR therapy is a bit different from traditional EMDR therapy. The treatment includes a six-step process combining EMDR and mindful meditation. However, the main difference is that the client will be recalling negative emotions to prepare for an event. 

History & Treatment

For the first two sessions, the psychologist and client will address past treatment and discuss the issue of attending sessions. After this, they will work with you to develop a treatment plan you can follow, which will be a rough outline of how many sessions it will take to complete your treatment.

Mindfulness Meditation 

During the next two sessions, the psychologist will teach mindfulness meditation while using cardio imagery. The client will then discuss prior performance issues and talk about past trauma. Once this is done, the patient and psychologist will discuss a complete treatment plan.

Installation & Review

During this phase, the patient will learn installations and identifications of mental scripts, which means that the client will learn how to identify positive thoughts or outcomes instead of impulsively reacting. From here, the client will practice mindful meditation, which they learned in the previous step. 

The goal here is to strengthen positive cognition while remembering the traumatic event. Instead of feeling helpless and having self-doubt, the patient will be taught and encouraged to think positively. Some thoughts include having control over oneself or believing that the event no longer holds power over them.

Either way, the point of installation is to have the patient truly believe their positive affirmation. The installation process will continue as many sessions as possible until the person ranks seven on the VOC scale.

Identification of Pre-Performance

The pre-performance routine will need to be rehearsed before the next training session or event. For athletes, this can be before a big competition or mark the start of training. During this time, you will go through each step of mindful meditation.


After the event, the client will do a follow-up session to see how the event went. During this time, the performance will be assessed by the client and psychologist. The client will then give a self-report and discuss any remaining concerns.


As an athlete, being physical and mentally healthy is key to success. If a short-term problem starts to interfere with your performance, it’s best to get treatment for it. EMDR therapy isn’t recommended for short-term issues. However, if it’s beginning to affect your performance, EMDR could set you back on track.

Negative feelings such as lack of focus, anxiety, or healing athletic traumas can improve with EMDR treatment. Reaching peak performance is key to overcoming aversive effects and achieving new athletic achievements. Hopefully, you now understand a bit more about EMDR and if it is a suitable form of treatment.

Tina Cannon, LMHC

I am a Licensed Psychotherapist in Florida, specializing and certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. I am an EMDR Expert, and I have many years of experience to help you escape your mental pain and trauma so you can love life again. I have also helped many athletes, coaches, performers, academics, and entrepreneurs successfully reach their peak performance using EMDR Performance Enhancement Psychology Protocol (EMDR-PEP). Please fill out the Contact Form on the Contact page if I can be of service to you. If you live anywhere in the state of Florida, USA., I offer the ease of Virtual EMDR Therapy or EMDR-PEP through HIPAA compliant and secured video conferencing.

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