Does EMDR Work?

Does EMDR work? This is an important question prior to embarking on EMDR treatment. beEMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing Therapy. EMDR is a treatment that currently has more scientific research than any other non-pharmaceutical intervention. Based on empirical evidence, as well as thousands of client and clinician testimonials, EMDR has proven to be an effective and rapid method of reprocessing traumatic material. It is used primarily for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but is also used as a treatment for a number of other health conditions. These might include depression, anxiety, addiction and phobias. EMDR appears to assist in the processing of traumatic information resulting in a decrease in trauma and a more adaptive perspective.

Studies showing the Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy for PTSD

There have been over thirty studies which have showed a positive outcome. Some studies showed 84-90% of single event trauma victims no longer had PTSD symptoms after three ninety minute EMDR sessions. Another study showed 100% success rate for single event trauma victims. Another study showed success with 77% of multiple trauma victims after six fifty minute sessions.

A study carried out by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital National Health Service Foundation Trust in 2019 concluded: This study has demonstrated that the provision of tEMDR has resulted in a clinically and statistically significant improvement in tinnitus symptoms in the majority of those participants who took part. Furthermore, the treatment effect was maintained at 6 months after treatment ceased. This study is of particular interest, as the study protocol was designed to be purposefully inclusive of a divers range of tinnitus patients.

It is a leading evidence based treatment for the treatment and cessation of PTSD symptoms.

Which Organisations Recognise EMDR as an Effective Treatment for PTSD?

EMDR is recognised alongside Trauma Focused CBT as the treatment of choice for PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organisation and the Department of Defence. The US Department of Veterans Affairs & Department of Defence placed EMDR into category A for most effective PTSD psychotherapies. The United Kingdom Department of Health reported the best evidence for the efficacy of EMDR.

Can the Effectiveness of EMDR be attributed to a Placebo?

Studies show that EMDR therapy shows beneficial outcomes when compared to placebo treatments or no treatment at all. EMDR outperformed active listening and other standard forms of trauma care which included: Individual cognitive therapy, psychodynamic therapy, behavioural therapy and relaxation training with biofeedback.

Are the benefits maintained over time?

There have been a number of studies carried out to ascertain whether EMDR  treatment benefits for PTSD are maintained on following up with patients who received treatment.  Studies varied in terms of follow up times varying from 3 months to 5 years.

One study carried out on civilians with a diagnosis of PTSD showed that treatment effects were maintained in eight out of nine studies. The ninth study carried out by (Devilly & Spence, 1999) showed a deterioration of treatment benefits.

Three studies were carried out with combat veterans. The study which carried out by (Carlson et al, 1998) which provided a full course of 12 weeks treatment found benefits to be maintained 9 months after treatment.

The other studies carried out were not conclusive because patients did not complete a full course of treatment but showed a deterioration in the original benefits of EMDR treatment.

Conclusions

EMDR therapy is an effective way of assisting with trauma and the stress associated with traumatic memory recall. It is superior to traditional therapies for treating trauma or PTSD however it is on par with trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy in terms of studies conducted as to its efficiency. It does however have some benefits over trauma focused CBT. The main one is that it requires no homework and the beneficial effects can be experienced relatively quickly in comparison to other therapies.

It is also clear that the benefits of EMDR therapy and its success in the short and long term are dependent on completing a course of treatment. EMDR therapy is also has the greatest benefit when it is used in an adjunct way as part of a broader psychotherapeutic approach to trauma or PTSD.