Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, otherwise known as EMDR, is a newer therapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), started in 1989 by Francine Shapiro. Over the last 30 years, this modality has become more widely known and increasingly popular, and its outcomes on patients back its acclaim.
How does EMDR work?
It is a process that stimulates both hemispheres of the brain through biofeedback. The patient processes a traumatic event by tapping, patting, or crossing their arms and activating new neural pathways as they talk with their therapist. The purpose of the therapy is to reduce triggers to everyday stimuli. The goal is for someone with PTSD or complex PTSD (C-PTSD) could increase their executive function and ultimately their quality of life.
EMDR is conducted in phases. The first phase is getting to know the therapist. Here it is decided if the patient and provider are a good fit for each other. The second phase is where the therapist establishes trust with the patient and teaches them self-soothing methods such as meditation and calming imagery. In the third phase of EMDR, the patient chooses a specific event to focus on. This is not a specific issue or trigger, but it is an actual event to recount to the therapist. Next, the bilateral stimulation begins. This involves tones, tapping, and eye movement that stimulates the brain. The following steps, conclude the process of EMDR with calming mechanisms after the process of therapy, along with assessing what other works need to continue in the next sessions. The final step of EMDR is graduation, something everyone strives to achieve in this process.
The science behind the therapy
In 2014, Dr Francine Shapiro conducted a total of 24 randomised studies to evaluate the effectiveness of EMDR therapy in comparison to Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Seventy per cent of the studies showed that EMDR was effective more quickly in the treatment of PTSD than the delivery of TF-CBT. The study also revealed a reduction of negative symptoms after fewer sessions of therapy. EMDR is not only effective, but it’s life-changing. The impact of EMDR therapy can be long-lasting, literally reversing diagnoses of trauma.
An anonymous blog writer stated, “After 12 sessions, my scores no longer fall into the range for Complex PTSD. At nineteen, I was told I’d have it for the rest of my life and that I needed to learn how to cope with it. I thought my brain would be broken forever – because that’s how I saw my trauma. Just yesterday, I found out that my brain has healed so much in such a short time that I no longer have the boogeyman living in it. EMDR literally saved me.” Stories like this happen all over the world with the effect of EMDR treatment for PTSD patients.
EMDR hasn’t aged
Over 30 years later, EMDR still stands the test of time. More therapists are becoming trained and making access to this type of therapy more affordable. Many insurance companies are also covering EMDR as a therapy modality, and new pieces of training are covering accommodations for treatment through telehealth. Therapist Robert Broyles says: “EMDR is becoming more accessible because it is a very adaptable treatment that is helpful to people of all ages. With the increasing need for and popularity of telehealth options, EMDR can easily be implemented in virtual sessions focused and targeted to bilateral stimulation that is just as effective as in-person treatment.” The access, affordability, and flexibility of this mode of therapy are becoming a driving force in the lives of everyday people in need of trauma recovery.
Tiffany Wicks, EdD received a doctorate in education from Johns Hopkins University. She conducts independent research about maternal morbidity in marginalised communities.