Where do I find more information about what Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) looks like?
- EMDR Canada
- EMDR International Association has extensive information describing sessions
- US Department of Veterans Affairs Patient Information
EMDR Recordings to support treatment
- Introduction to EMDR Therapy Notice That podcast episode
- Creating a container Notice That podcast episode
- Calm experience imagery Notice That podcast episode
- Light Stream imagery Notice That podcast episode
Is EMDR actually supported for treating PTSD?
- Research supports EMDR as an efficacious treatment for PTSD, but not superior to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The weekly ‘dosage’ of EMDR treatment is lower than for CBT-based trauma therapies as EMDR typically has limited homework…of course we all benefit from self-care between sessions, so at least go for a walk 😉 (Ho, M. S. K., & Lee, C. W. (2012). Cognitive behaviour therapy versus eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for post-traumatic disorder–is it all in the homework then?. Revue Européenne de Psychologie Appliquée/European Review of Applied Psychology, 62(4), 253-260.)
- For more information:
- American Psychological Association conditionally recommends EMDR in treatment of PTSD and has guideline updates pending
- UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines for treatment of PTSD Recommend EMDR and CBT-based trauma therapies for PTSD
- US Department of Veterans Affairs Overall recommendation of EMDR as efficacious. See discussion of overall and relative effectiveness.
- US Department of Veterans Affairs Clinical Practice Guidelines for the management of posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder list EMDR, along with CBT-based trauma therapies, as having Strong Evidence.
- For more information:
What about the eye movements…is EMDR anything more than just imaginal exposure and desensitization…and do the eye movements really do anything?
- Research supports efficacy of EMDR as equal to CBT-based trauma therapies in treating PTSD. In and between sessions, CBT-based trauma therapies often use components such as imaginal exposure (thinking about the trauma), challenging thoughts about the trauma, thinking about your life in different ways, and/or real world exposure (doing things that feel triggering…) . It is entirely possible EMDR is using the same imaginal exposure you would do using that form of CBT-based trauma treatment to desensitize the trauma memories, but you will only do it in session and not as homework between sessions.
- Researchers hypothesize the eye movements, alternating stimulation back and forth between the left and right sides of the body and other distractions may do something like 1) initiate information processing like in REM sleep (that’s the phase of our sleep when we think we consolidate memories, we do much of our dreaming and when our eyes are flicking around), 2) distract us while we have the trauma memory activated in working memory, 3) calm us to allow the brain to lower the “Fight/Flight” mode and allow it to process the emotionally disturbing information, 3) remind us we are actually in a room with someone else and not really back when the trauma was happening, to help the brain to realize this and process that information, 4) or something else we may not realize yet. See here for recent review of mechanisms.
- Research supports EMDR with eye movements as more efficacious than EMDR without eye movements (Lee, C.W., & Cuijpers, P. (2013). A meta-analysis of the contribution of eye movements in processing emotional memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry, 44, 231-239.).
- …As long as this treatment is supported by research, we both agree to to try it, we monitor the outcomes for you, and there is less dosage than a CBT-based treatment for the same diagnosis, I’m ok with not knowing the full mechanism of action for now…we don’t know the full mechanism of action for many medical therapies and we choose to use those when research supports them as efficacious in treatment. I do prefer the reduced amount of homework for clients. I see this as reduced weekly treatment dosage.
Is EMDR supported for treating issues other than PTSD?
- There is preliminary research evidence for efficacy of EMDR in treating disorders and issues other than PTSD. If we decide to experiment using EMDR to assist in your treatment, we will discus this and consider it experimental.
- Check this link for a list of research studies. Many are pilot or preliminary research studies: https://www.emdr.com/research-overview/#meta-analyses
My caveat/disclaimer: I have reviewed these resources, BUT I did not create them and do not continuously monitor them. I only include resources I believe to be reliable, but given the nature of the internet, these links or their information may be changed without my knowledge. …so, always read critically, consult with your healthcare provider before making changes to your healthcare plan…and, if you are in crisis, you probably already know to look for help (911, hospital emergency, crisis line 1-800-784-2433) and reach out to someone.