Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychological therapy developed by Francis Shapiro in the 1980s. The theory behind EMDR is that unprocessed memories from traumatic events cause mental health disorders, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since its inception, EMDR has evolved to address other psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. This therapy has been used by EMDR therapists all over the world among thousands of patients. EMDR is an eight-phase treatment protocol that utilizes eye-movements or a similar bilateral sensory stimulation.
Over 45 randomized controlled studies have researched the effectiveness of EMDR for a wide range of psychiatric disorders. EMDR’s efficacy for treating PTSD has been proven in numerous trials for both children and adults. EMDR was developed as a trauma therapy, so there is obviously more research established in this area. Other disorders have been studied but continued replication is necessary to determine definitive efficacy. Studies results revealed that EMDR therapy significantly reduced PTSD symptoms, which continued long after therapy. Additionally, this therapy reduced depression and anxiety symptoms associated with PTSD.
Complex PTSD (CPTSD) is a variation of PTSD involving a wide range of symptoms resulting from repeated and prolonged interpersonal trauma during childhood. Symptoms and diagnostic criteria are similar to PTSD. Evidence suggests EMDR is an effective therapy to reduce or eliminate symptoms associated with CPTSD.
How EMDR Works
The theory of EMDR results from the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, which posits that psychological problems stem from unprocessed traumatic memories stored in the brain’s memory networks. These negative memories are activated by current events and trigger symptomatic behaviors. These may include feelings of fear, sadness, helplessness, avoidance, maladaptive thinking patterns, and flashbacks. Especially memories that occurred during the early years can lead to impaired coping skills and emotional vulnerability to stressful events.
EMDR therapy targets the brain’s information processing system in such a way leading to resolution, learning and hope. Disturbing memories of the past become healthily integrated into the memory networks.
EMDR for Depression
Depressive disorders, such as Major Depressive Disorder, encompass feelings of sadness, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, sleep disturbance, and lack of interest in things. Depression typically results in persistent negative thoughts and memories. Other depressive disorders include peripartum depression (previously known as postpartum depression), seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder.
EMDR has traditionally been used to treat PTSD, so there is less research studying EMDR as a treatment for depression. Some studies have concluded that EMDR is an effective form a treatment. In particular, a randomized controlled study of 26 patients found that EMDR therapy effectively reduced depressive symptoms, which was maintained at a 3 month follow-up.
EMDR for Anxiety
Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias and panic disorder with or without agoraphobia. Over the last 20 years, six randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examined the effectiveness of EMDR with patients. Four of these studies found that EMDR therapy reduced panic and phobic symptoms. The two other studies found no effect of EMDR on the studied anxiety disorder. Similar studies will need to be replicated and expanded to provide further evidence of EMDR efficacy.
Can EMDR Help Me?
If you have PTSD, CPTSD, depression or anxiety, EMDR therapy might help you recover. Even if you aren’t sure about a diagnosis but are struggling with traumatic events, you may want to engage in therapy with a trained EMDR specialist. Dr. Mazzei has helped many individuals overcome their traumatic pasts and utilizes EMDR therapy in her practice. She will work with you in a safe and comforting therapeutic space so that you are supported through this challenging but rewarding work.