Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) has for the last 17 years tickled clinician’s – and client’s – hopes that finally a technique has been found that will help those unfortunate people who suffer from the debilitating symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How does it work? In principle, you remember a particularly painful or disturbing incident, make a mental picture of it, and pin this picture on the therapist’s index finger. The therapist then moves his/her finger in front of your face. You follow this movement with your eyes (head remains still) for a certain amount of repetitions. The idea is that after the treatment you have no longer the distressing emotions attached to your memories.
What does the research say? Although EMDR followers have done some research, these studies are not widely accepted due to poor research design (i.e. lack of control studies, lack of evidentiary support of effectiveness).
Taylor and colleagues conducted a Meta analysis (2003, Comparative efficacy, speed, and adverse effects of three PTSD treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 330-338) conducted a controlled study in which their participants were either assigned to a) exposure treatment, b) relaxation treatment, and c) EMDR. They found that EMDR is as effective as the two other approaches. It shows no more rapidly improvement than the two other approaches and no superiority.
Claiming that EMDR is the golden bullet in trauma therapy is at best wishful thinking. Indeed there is no evidence that it is even especially effective for a specific diagnostic group. Davidson and his colleagues found (2001, Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 305-316) that EMDR is effective; however, what about the technique is effective has not been able to be demonstrated.
As a strange twist they found that EMDR works even if you don’t do the eye movements, which are the signature strength of the approach! Find out what other sceptics have to say about the issue. ….what is new in EMDR does not appear to be helpful, and what is helpful is what we already know about relaxation, education, and psychotherapy.* Read on here