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Is EMDR Scientifically Proven? Take A Closer Look!

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Though the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) technique has been around for almost four decades (it was conceptualized around 1987), many discussions still shroud its scientific efficacy. To invest emotionally in EMDR, it becomes necessary to understand more about its process and uses before contemplating its usefulness. EMDR has been widely hailed as a corrective procedure for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) with a non-organic origin. This includes any stress generated from traumas like abuse, assault, accident, or hurtful incident subject to the condition that the stress generated is not a direct result of the patient's chemical imbalance.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR is typically administered under a trained therapist over a span of 6 to 12 sessions, and the sessions can be logically spaced out or conducted consecutively. The EMDR treatment works on the premise that unprocessed memories arising from mental trauma are distressful as there is inadequate processing. The unprocessed store of memories causes negative emotions that rise to the surface whenever they are recalled. The victim acutely relives the physical symptoms, emotions, and beliefs around that traumatic incident and can experience side effects ranging from extreme anger to anxiety to depression.

Unlike other psychological treatment modalities, EMDR does not try to reshape the victim's thought process but rather seeks to reduce the efficacy of the memory by minimizing distressful symptoms. The eye movements and other forms of right-left stimulation modalities are used consecutively along with the traumatic incident's active retelling. When patients concentrate on the trauma and experience bilateral stimulation, the intensity of emotions is drastically reduced. Usually, EMDR Therapy consists of 8 phases. There is history noting, client briefing, target memory assessment. The memory processing to facilitate resolution is done in 4 separate phases, after which there is a phase of evaluating treatment results.

How effective is EMDR?

EMDR was the brainchild of Francine Shapiro, a trained psychologist who accidentally discovered the benefits of bilateral stimulation while musing about some negative thoughts while walking in the woods. Since its inception, EMDR gained a lot of popularity and the approval of most leading psychology councils (including the APA), and many researchers corroborated its efficacy.

While patients/ clients follow the therapist's bilateral stimulation model, several effects come into play. The client is distracted/ relaxed, and the two hemispheres of the brain are synchronized, leading to a more logical analysis of the entire situation. In the long run, EMDR clients can substitute negative thoughts (I will never …) with positive thoughts (If I try hard enough, I can). Above 65,000 clinics have opted for intensive training in EMDR techniques, and millions of people with PTSD have benefited from EMDR treatments. An internationally established association called EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) has more than 4000 learned members. EMDR certifications are now publically flaunted on psychiatrist's credentials, advertisements, and clinical papers.

EMDR is better than Supportive Listening

EMDR happens under controlled conditions in which a trained therapist listens to the client and intervenes with specific bilateral stimulations. EMDR sessions are found to be 40% more effective than non-intervention based psychological counseling and 60% more effective than just heart to heart conversations with an untrained support network.

However, EMDR's superiority over cognitive behavior therapies is not established. Cognitive behavior therapies deliberately expose clients to anxiety, causing stimuli, and with prolonged exposures, symptoms dissipate. A lot of research is still being undertaken to compare EMDR with imagine exposure.

It can be logically said that EMDR is the best non-intense self-driven psychological treatment model for PTSD victims. After interventions at a certified clinic, a client can easily practice EMDR at home with his/ her partner and derive the dis-associative/ emotional drain out the benefits of EMDR effectively. EMDR is mentally less strenuous and can be tried by clients of all age groups and ethnicities without major repercussions. EMDR cannot be a substitute for CBT modalities intended for clients with acute organic mental disorders. It is also not a try at home therapy technique as the first 4 of the 8 stages detailed in EMDR need to be accomplished in a clinical setting under trained professionals' supervision.

Like all psychological interventions, EMDR too must be attempted with full cognizance with a committed approach, after which there is a high probability of accumulative benefits.

Author
Dr. Neda Khodaparast Neda Khodaparast, PsyD, QME, is the founder and CEO of The Green Room Psychological Services Inc. in San Diego, California. Dr. Khodaparast earned her doctorate from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology in Boston. She has over 15 years in clinical practice providing individual and couple therapy, as well as conducting forensic evaluations for personal injuries, civil cases, immigration evaluations, and pre surgical clearance psychological evaluations. She has also been conducting medical-legal worker’s compensation evaluations as a Qualified Medical Evaluator (QME) Since 2014. Dr. Khodaparast specializes in utilizing psychodynamic orientation and focuses on treating trauma and PTSD including childhood sexual and physical abuse, sexual assualt’s survivors, war truama, as well as eating disorders, and adoption related issues. She appreciates the complexity of human’s psyche and understands the process and the importance of “meeting the patients where they at.”

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