What is the evidence for the effectiveness of EMDR? Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, or EMDR (read my post on what EMDR involves by clicking here) was first endorsed and recommended by the American Psychiatric Association in 2004, as it also was by The International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies in 2009, for the treatment of trauma related condions such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). So far, more than twenty scientifically controlled, randomized studies have supported its effectiveness.
EXAMPLES OF SCIENTIFIC STUDIES THAT HAVE SUPPORTED THE EFFECTIVENESS OF EMDR THERAPY :
– Rothbaum (1997) conducted research on individuals who had developed PTSD as the result of sexual assault. After three 90 minute sessions of EMDR therapy, 90% went into remission.
– Marcus et al (2004) undertook a study of two groups. The first group had suffered a single traumatic event, whilst those in the second group had suffered multiple trauma. After six, 50-minute sessions of EMDR therapy, 100% of the first group and 77% of the second group no longer had PTSD.
– Wilson et al |(1997) ran a research study which found that 84% of those who had developed PTSD as the result of a single trauma went into remission after receiving three, 90-minute EMDR therapy sessions
TO WHAT EXTENT DOES THE PLACEBO EFFECT PLAY A PART IN THESE FINDINGS?
Research into the effectiveness of EMDR therapy has largely controlled for the placebo effect, so its influence can be confidently eliminated, in large part. An example of a study which has looked at whether the placebo effect can contaminate results of studies into EMDR was carried out by van der Kolk et al (2007). The experiment compared a group who recieved a placebo with a group who received EMDR therapy – as was hypothesized, it was EMDR therapy which had the superior effect.
IS THE ACTUAL EYE MOVEMENT COMPONENT OF EMDR ESSENTIAL?
Several studies have shown that therapy which includes clients undergoing the guided eye movements of EMDR therapy are more effectively treated than those who undergo the ‘exposure’ component of the therapy alone.
WHY ARE THE GUIDED EYE MOVEMENTS NECESSARY?
This question requires further examination. However, two main theories currently predominate that seek to supply an answer :
– Theory 1 : This theory proposes that the eye movements induced by EMDR serve to replicate the eye movements which occur in REM sleep (REM sleep is the stage of sleep in which the person is having dreams; REM stands for RAPID EYE MOVEMENT). This type of eye movement is believed to increase relaxation and decrease psychophysiological arousal. Proponents of the theory include Stickgold (2002) and Sack et al (2008).
– Theory 2 : This theory puts forward the view that the eye movements involved in EMDR therapy interfere with working memory (working memory is also sometimes referred to as short-term memory) in such a way that effects of trauma are alleviated by the reduction of the vividness and emotionality of traumatic memories.
Notwithstanding the above two theories, further research is required in order to fully determine the precise mechanisms through which EMDR therapy produces its beneficial effects. It is possible that both of the above two theories play a role in tandem with one another.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).