EMDR is an effective, fast, intensive therapy: New research on PTSD

New research cited in the June 2017 edition of the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) newsletter shows that regular, intensive treatment leads to faster positive outcomes. This is no news to me. When my abuse/PTSD clients take their homework seriously, and do not skip appointments, I nearly always see amazing healing occur at a rapid pace.

To preface quoting this research, I must explain that EMDR, as taught to trained practitioners (like me) is a weekly therapy of at least 50 minutes, and there is a preparation phase, with a screening for dissociative symptoms requiring more lengthy preparation. I am currently midway through a 2-year, advanced EMDR certification dealing with treating the most difficult cases, and preparation is key. But even with simple PTSD, I intensively prepare my once-weekly clients with skills and resources to make sure treatment is safe, comfortable, and effective.

However, in a specialized research trial, EMDR researchers went totally overboard and, without any client-specific preparation at all, did 4 days of two 90-minute sessions per day, with 7 clients diagnosed with complex PTSD (multiple traumas). These traumas included child sexual and physical abuse, and combat trauma, among others. The clients engaged in exercise and education about the nature of EMDR and trauma in between sessions.

The incredible results were that after the 4 days of intensive treatment, 4 out of 7 of these highly traumatized clients no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis, and the 3 others saw significant improvement. As well, there were no drop-outs, and there were no adverse events (i.e., severe or disabling distress) during treatment. 3 months later, the effects still held true.

Now, I would never do EMDR like these researchers did, but still, imagine what their results might have been had there been client-specific preparation prior to treatment. 7 out of 7? It is likely that the three clients not entirely cured of PTSD can be accounted for by dissociative symptoms, severe anxiety, and other things often easily addressed with client-specific preparation. With no preparation at all, these results are nothing short of amazing.

I believe this research illustrates that EMDR is not only effective and safe, but actually involves making permanent changes to the way memories are physically stored in the brain. Otherwise, such fast results cannot be explained. In EMDR, there is no "mind over matter" that wears off, or "skill-building" that is easily forgotten. EMDR builds new neurological bridges from the past to the present so that stuck, traumatic memories can be sent to the brain's recycle bin, forever.

Research cited:

Bongaets, H. Van Minnen, A., & de Jongh, A. (2017). Intensive EMDR to treat patients with complex posttraumatic stress disorder: A case series. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 11(2), 84-95.

Note: In this research, change was measured with the CAPS and the PSS-SR instruments, which cover clinician-observed and client-perceived PTSD symptoms.