It’s been thirty-four years since Francine Shapiro discovered that eye movement reduces emotional distress. Since that time 10’s of thousands of therapists have been trained in this therapy and millions of people from around the world have been treated with this eye movement therapy she discovered. Her discovery became known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing usually referred to as EMDR therapy.
Despite being around for thirty-four years, EMDR therapy is still often scoffed at by the uninformed. I have heard clients tell me that their former therapists say things like, “I doubt waving my hands in front of your eyes is going to help you.” Or “There is no research to show EMDR works.” These criticisms were levied at EMDR in its infancy, which is perhaps understandable, but these types of statements were reported to me just this past year.
These types of statements, first, are false, and second, spread disinformation that can discourage traumatized clients who are in need of trauma treatment to look elsewhere. These types of ill-informed statements are unethical and border on negligence. This does a serious disservice to those struggling with PTSD, who are seeking help.
In this article evidence will be presented to show how foolish the criticism of EMDR therapy is and how harmful such statements can be for those in need of help.
First let’s discuss the public health organizations from around the world that endorse EMDR therapy as the first line of defense that should be used to treat trauma.
The World Health Organization (WHO) endorses EMDR therapy as a recommended therapy for trauma. The World Health Organization does not recommend a therapy without rigorous scientific examination, so to suggest there is no research is ridiculous.
Additional organizations endorsing EMDR therapy as the first line of defense from around the world are listed below:
- United Kingdom Department of Health
- Israeli National Counsel for Mental Health
- Northern Ireland Department of Health
- Dutch National Committee of Mental Health
- French National Institute of Medical Research]
- Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA)
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- The International Society for Traumatic Studies
- International Association for Traumatic Stress
Why would these organizations endorse EMDR so enthusiastically? Let’s take a look.
The first research study was published in 1988. In this study 22 traumatized subjects received the therapy and evidenced incredible results. The results reported sleep improved significantly, nightmares reduced or eliminated, intrusive thoughts of the trauma were eliminated or reduced, sense of well being increased and the diagnosis was eliminated. These incredible results were accomplished in just three therapy session.
Since that original study there have been over 500 hundred additional research studies published. Approximately 45 randomized controlled studies (the gold standard of research) have been done evidencing EMDR’s effectiveness in the treatment of trauma and other diagnoses and populations including children.
Some of these studies show the connection of EMDR and the function of REM sleep. The research shows that EMDR movements reduce distressing emotion and the vividness of troubling images. Dr. Richard Stickgold, Harvard researcher has headed a lot of this research and reinforced the idea that REM and EMDR work in the same brain area.
In short, there is a vastness of research that has been done over the last thirty-four years. Many are large, impressive studies that include brain imaging research examining pre and post EMDR treatment that shows change in the brain to normal brain functioning. These studies support the need and effectiveness of eye movements in the reduction of trauma symptoms.
If you are struggling with trauma, please consider EMDR therapy. Several qualified EMDR therapists are listed in our directory on this website. If you are a therapist considering treatment, please seek out this training. After COVID the entire world is going to wake up traumatized by 2020 and there will be a great need for therapists with this skill.