Evidence on EMDR

Thirty years after Francine Shapiro introduced eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, it has become a comprehensive psychotherapy guided by the adaptive information processing (AIP) model. Online EMDR clinic will provide an overview of the research written from our home base in Melbourne.

Extensive research has been conducted regarding EMDR’s efficacy in the treatment of several different disorders. When it comes to PTSD in adults, three studies from 1999, 2012, and 2013 showed notable decreases in the symptoms of the subjects after participating in EMDR therapy sessions, with reductions between 36% and 94%-95% in PTSD diagnosis. Several other studies from 2002 found that, in comparison with exposure therapy, EMDR determined a faster symptom reduction.

Regarding children and adolescents with PTSD symptoms, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) and EMDR therapy are both recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as first-choice treatments. Consequently, studies were conducted in order to compare the efficacy of both treatments. A 2018 meta-analysis involving 30 studies with a total of 1192 subjects showed that TF-CBT was slightly more effective than EMDR when it comes to reducing posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) posttreatment. However, the analyses demonstrated that children with PTSD diagnoses have had less favorable responses in comparison with children who did not meet the criteria for a full diagnosis, thus providing insight into the relevance of early intervention.

A 2018 study conducted in Mexico provides evidence regarding the efficacy of early intervention EMDR protocols in the reduction of symptoms provoked by traumatic or life-changing experiences that cause continuing disruption and retraumatisation. A Turkish study conducted in the same year supports this evidence. Also related to early intervention, a 2016 French study showed that EMDR therapy was more successful than critical incident stress debriefing in diminishing posttraumatic symptoms. Although it seems clear that early intervention is beneficial for individuals of all ages, there are still many discussions on which EMDR protocols are the most efficient.

Because depression is linked to high mortality and chronic depression is, in many cases, treatment resistant, many clinicians have been trying to discover whether EMDR therapy could be an effective treatment for individuals who experience depressive disorders. A 2012 meta-analysis provided evidence that EMDR was more effective than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in terms of comorbid depressive symptom reduction. Also related to comorbidity, a 2006 USA case study in which EMDR was not evaluated in comparison with another form of therapy described the treatment of a patient who experiences from both depression and ADHD. The case study showed that EMDR therapy had such a positive impact on the patient that the medications for both of the disorders were discontinued. The treatment also led to an improvement in terms of concentration and to a decrease in hypervigilance. It will be helpful to observe online EMDR case studies in the future.

Medication for depression has been often scrutinised. WHO suggests that pharmacological methods should be taken into consideration only if psychotherapeutic interventions are unavailable or ineffective. Thus, it would be optimal to find an effective form of therapy for depressive disorders which would not require or would at least reduce the adjacent use of antidepressants. A small step towards such a possibility is represented by a 2007 USA study which showed that EMDR therapy was more effective in the reduction of depression and PTSD symptoms than fluoxetine. Furthermore, the first randomised controlled study on EMDR efficacy as a primary major depressive disorder treatment (2016) provides preliminary evidence that EMDR could be a viable short-term form of therapy. The effects of EMDR in this study maintained at the 3-month follow-up. After 6-8 therapy sessions, remission in depressive symptoms was reached. However, the study requires replication and future research is needed in order to reach a feasible conclusion on this matter.

Until 2019, six randomised control trials were conducted to investigate whether EMDR therapy was efficacious for adults who experience anxiety disorders. On account of three studies conducted in 2007, 2012, and 2013, it has been theorised that EMDR can be helpful when treating panic disorders (PD), especially when it comes to addressing early contributory experiences, triggers, and memories of panic attacks. Further, a randomised control trial conducted in the Netherlands in 2013 showed that EMDR therapy was just as efficacious as CBT for treating PD. At the follow-up, the participants experiencing PD or panic disorder with agoraphobia (PDA) exhibited a constant reduction in the frequency of panic attacks in the EMDR condition. This reduction was substantially greater than the one exhibited by the participants in the CBT treatment group.

Another serious problem which could be addressed through EMDR therapy is chronic pain. It is estimated that around 1 in 5 people worldwide suffer from this impairment, so finding a proper treatment for it would make a significant difference. A randomised controlled trial conducted in Iran in 2017 on phantom limb pain (PLP) showed that EMDR therapy was successful. The effects of EMDR maintained at the 24-month follow-up, making EMDR a recommended method of treating PLP.

A 2011 Turkish pilot study was conducted to investigate the efficacy of EMDR on migraine headache. The 11 subjects, all suffering from daily chronic headache, showed a considerable reduction in headache duration and frequency which maintained at the 3-month follow-up. However, there was no pain intensity decrease. Despite this, ER visits and painkiller usage became less frequent. Such results provide preliminary evidence that EMDR therapy could be used as an alternative form of migraine treatment. A study which confirms this was conducted in the USA in 2008 by Steven V. Marcus.

When it comes to treating certain illnesses, such as social anxiety disorder, it is yet inconclusive whether EMDR could be more efficient than other forms of therapy. Even so, many advances have been made in the field of psychology since the introduction of EMDR. Although further research needs to be conducted in order to discover its true potential, EMDR is presently regarded as an evidence-based form of psychotherapy and as a new, viable method of treating numerous trauma-based disorders. More research would be needed to test the effectiveness on EMDR online. This article was written from Online EMDR Clinic’s home base in Melbourne.