2019: A good year for EMDR!


2019 was a big year for EMDR!

The International Institute for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) released a policy statement for 2019, giving EMDR its strongest recommendation for the treatment of PTSD in adults. The top twenty trauma treatment methods were considered, if that puts it into perspective. Notably, EMDR as an early intervention (when trauma is very new) was also recommended.

Simply put, EMDR works, and now everyone knows it. The ISTSS reviewed the research, and there it is. Page 17 of the report (link below) has the relevant information, and page 26 has a great summary of what EMDR is, actually. [Click here to view ISSTD policy statement]

Researchers and trauma therapists have not always been fans of EMDR! When Dr. Francine Shapiro first introduced the method in the early 90's, she was ridiculed--but she stuck to it. Now, EMDR is the top-of-the-line treatment for trauma. Dr. Shapiro died this year, having fought the good fight, demonstrating the power of EMDR to change lives.

It is worth noting that Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE), formerly the top recognized therapies, were also strongly recommended, but this must be kept in context. TF-CBT and PE are "desensitization" therapies designed to "numb out" trauma, whereas EMDR is a "transformational" therapy that focuses on triggers and negative self-belief, resolving symptoms in the process. EMDR, in other words, is thorough, and in many cases, a total cure.

In addition to being more comprehensive, EMDR does not involve the pain of re-living trauma that TF-CBT and PE do. It is also the case that TF-CBT and PE can take numerous sessions to resolve one single memory, while EMDR can resolve numerous events in one session. EMDR is therefore the better choice when an individual has more than one traumatic experience (complex PTSD).

There is also in the research a complex decision of deciding what "success" is in a trauma treatment. The most common way is to go with the obvious: which therapies make people no longer diagnosable with PTSD? But this is unintentionally deceptive. Exposure therapies such as PE or TF-CBT are good at reducing symptoms to levels that aren't diagnosable, but rarely produce anything that could be called a "cure." For instance, a research participant may be called a "success" when he or she is one symptom away from a PTSD diagnosis. EMDR, however, in my experience, thoroughly roots out trauma and its symptoms in a profound sense, leaving nothing behind but a vague idea that some bad stuff happened in the past.

This idea that non-EMDR exposure therapies often produce a partial cure, feeds into a really hot area of EMDR research currently. This is the treatment of "S-PTSD," which means "sub-clinical PTSD." This is the state many law enforcement officers, soldiers, and EMS personnel find themselves in: enough trauma to ruin their marriages and give them nightmares, but not enough to "officially" diagnose PTSD. EMDR is great at getting rid of this. I have had the recent privilege of treating both a service member and a law enforcement official, and have two former EMT's in therapy now.