A recent study has found that EMDR, a once suspect therapy that involves recalling traumatic memories while moving your eyes, is one of the most effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a type of psychotherapy that, among other things, involves thinking about the traumatic event while attending to bodily reactions and moving your eyes left and right, usually following a light or the therapist’s finger.
However, several studies have found it to be one of the most effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, and this new study, one of best to date, has repeated the finding.
After the eight week treatment block, fluoextine and EMDR were equally effective,
However, six months later, 75% who had been traumatised in adulthood and were treated with EMDR reported having no symptoms. For people traumatised during childhood, a third treated by EMDR were symptom free by the same point.
In contrast, none of the people in either group treated with fluoxetine managed to free themselves from symptoms.
Most clinicians looking at the study might suspect that eight weeks of drug treatment wouldn’t be long enough as prescriptions are often recommended for six months to a year after stabilisation.
Nevertheless, it’s an impressive result, not least because of the short 8-week treatment time for EMDR and the strong recovery rate.
One of the criticisms of EMDR is that it’s still not clear what part the eye-movement aspect plays in the therapy and exactly how it works.
What this trial didn’t do is compare EMDR to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a type of recently devised psychotherapy that is known to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders.
Both of these therapies focus on ‘reprocessing’ the trauma memories – essentially remembering and ‘reliving’ them, which seems to play a major role in preventing the uncontrolled memories and flashbacks that are part of the disorder.
This is also the focus of a recently devised combined drug and ‘reprocessing’ therapy we reported on earlier, which seems to work by dampening down bodily arousal when the memories are recalled due to the action of the drug propranolol.
Link to abstract of clinical trial.