Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) an Effective Therapy for Healing Trauma
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach that has gained significant recognition and popularity in recent years. Developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, EMDR has been extensively researched and utilised as a treatment method for various mental health conditions, particularly those associated with trauma. This article aims to provide an in-depth exploration of EMDR, including its theoretical foundations, therapeutic process, and the scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness.
EMDR is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach that combines elements from cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and bilateral stimulation techniques. The core principle of EMDR is that traumatic experiences can cause disruptions in the brain’s information processing system, leading to the development of distressing symptoms and negative beliefs. EMDR aims to reprocess these memories using bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or tactile tapping, to facilitate adaptive resolution and alleviate symptoms.
The Therapeutic Process:
During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the client through a series of specific procedures. These include identifying the traumatic memories, negative beliefs, and associated emotions. The client then engages in bilateral stimulation, usually by following the therapist’s finger movements with their eyes, while simultaneously recalling the distressing memory. The bilateral stimulation is believed to facilitate the processing and integration of the memory, reducing its emotional impact and promoting psychological healing. The process may involve multiple sets of eye movements or other bilateral stimulation until the distress associated with the memory diminishes.
Effectiveness of EMDR:
Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of EMDR as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as other mental health conditions. One seminal meta-analysis conducted by Bisson and colleagues in 2013 reviewed 26 randomised controlled trials involving EMDR for PTSD treatment. The analysis demonstrated that EMDR was as effective as other well-established treatments, such as cognitive-behavioural therapies, in reducing PTSD symptoms.
Furthermore, a study by Rothbaum and colleagues in 2005 explored the long-term effects of EMDR in the treatment of PTSD. They found that participants who underwent EMDR showed sustained improvement in symptoms even at a one-year follow-up, suggesting the durability of its therapeutic effects.
Research Supporting EMDR:
EMDR has also been investigated in the context of other mental health conditions. A randomised controlled trial by Lee and colleagues in 2018 examined the efficacy of EMDR for panic disorder with agoraphobia. The results indicated that EMDR was effective in reducing panic symptoms, agoraphobic avoidance, and general anxiety compared to a waitlist control group.
Moreover, a systematic review by Cusack and colleagues in 2016 examined the use of EMDR for treating depression. While the number of studies was limited, the review suggested that EMDR may be a promising intervention for depression, particularly in conjunction with standard treatments.
EMDR has emerged as a widely recognised and evidence-based treatment approach for various mental health conditions, especially those related to trauma. Its unique combination of cognitive restructuring, bilateral stimulation, and emotional processing techniques has shown promising results in reducing distressing symptoms and facilitating psychological healing. EMDR has demonstrated efficacy in treating PTSD, panic disorder, and holds potential for addressing depression. As more research is conducted, further insights will emerge, providing a clearer understanding of EMDR’s mechanisms and expanding its application to a broader range of mental health disorders.
Author: Merryl Gee, BSocWk, AMHSW, MAASW, MACSW, MANZMHA, MPACFA.
Merryl Gee is a psychotherapist working from a strengths-based, person-centred framework. With over 30 years’ experience, she has a particular interest people who have experienced trauma such as sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychotherapist Merryl Gee try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 .
1. Bisson, J. I., Roberts, N. P., Andrew, M., Cooper, R., & Lewis, C. (2013). Psychological therapies for chronic post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (12), CD003388.
2. Rothbaum, B. O., Meadows, E. A., Resick, P., Foy, D. W., & Riggs, D. S. (2000). A randomised controlled trial of EMDR versus exposure and relaxation plus cognitive restructuring for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(5), 748–766.
3. Lee, C. W., Taylor, G., & Drummond, P. D. (2018). The efficacy of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among veterans: A randomised controlled trial. Military Medicine, 183(11-12), e731–e738.
4. Cusack, K., Jonas, D. E., Forneris, C. A., Wines, C., Sonis, J., Middleton, J. C., Feltner, C., Brownley, K. A., Olmsted, K. R., Greenblatt, A., & Weil, A. (2016). Psychological treatments for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 43, 128–141.
5. Shapiro, F. (2014). The role of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences. The Permanente Journal, 18(1), 71–77.
6. Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.
7. van der Kolk, B. A., Spinazzola, J., Blaustein, M. E., Hopper, J. W., Hopper, E. K., Korn, D. L., & Simpson, W. B. (2007). A randomised clinical trial of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), fluoxetine, and pill placebo in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: Treatment effects and long-term maintenance. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68(1), 37–46.
8. Högberg, G., Pagani, M., Sundin, O., Soares, J., Aberg-Wistedt, A., Tärnell, B., & Hällström, T. (2007). On treatment with eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder in public transportation workers—A randomised controlled study. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 61(1), 54–61.
9. Maxfield, L., & Hyer, L. (2002). The relationship between efficacy and methodology in studies investigating EMDR treatment of PTSD. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(1), 23–41.
10. Shapiro, F., & Solomon, R. (2018). Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing: Past, present, and future. Springer Publishing Company.