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It's on! The world's two top PTSD therapies complete to see who's best

In 2019, the International Institute for Traumatic Stress Studies released a report studying the top 20 trauma therapies currently in use for treating PTSD in adults. EMDR and Prolonged Exposure (called PE) both received the Institute's "Strongest Recommendation," based on the research.

So which one is better? PE or EMDR? A new study for the compared the two, and was just published. If you don't want to wait to read through the quotes, I'll go ahead and tell you--EMDR wins by a mile (three other studies have already shown this).

Here are some quotes from the scientific article. First of all, how do they describe EMDR and PE? How are they different? Here's how the article describes them:


"Following a set of eye movements, the therapist asked the client to report what they 'noticed now'; they were then asked to focus on what had emerged, on a body sensation, or if appropriate, feedback ratings were reviewed using a SUDS score [disturbance rated 0-10]. When disturbance had reduced to a 0 or 1, a preferred positive cognition was identified and...installed...until the positive statement was rated as completely true."


"...the therapist directed the participant to relive the traumatic incident by closing their eyes and as vividly as possible recounting the event out loud, speaking in the present tense [i.e., like it's happening now]. Following 60 minutes...the participant was encouraged to talk about their reactions to revisiting the trauma..."

PE sounds like torture, right? But it's considered the top trauma therapy next to EMDR. But where's the proof--what really works, to resolve traumatic memories?

A graph in the article shows that in the first session, EMDR cut the average disturbance from 8/10 to 2/10, whereas PE actually made disturbance stay the same or perhaps increase. EMDR didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the memory. Most importantly, EMDR worked so quickly that a greater number of memories were able to be worked through in the same time period of 12 sessions. Here's are two quotes on these subjects:

"The results showed EMDR was more efficient than PE in terms of total exposure time to traumatic memories during and between sessions, the number of trauma memories process over the course of therapy, the time taken to process the primary trauma memory, and [disturbance] levels a the conclusion of the first treatment sessions."

"EMDR resulted in both the resolution of significantly more trauma memories over [12 sessions], and significantly fewer sessions were needed to desensitize the primary (target) memory in comparison to PE..." […] Hence, it may be suggested that EMDR is more efficient at treating multiple-incident trauma..."

In addition to PE requiring clients to relive horrifying memories during therapy, it required them to practice this at home, too, for a total of 45 hours of homework over treatment! Conversely, EMDR's homework usually consists of practicing visualizing a safe place created in therapy, and comparatively did this for only 3 hours over treatment.

In the end, both methods worked for treating trauma, and maintaining change over a 6-month period. But think of the differences! EMDR did not require reliving the horrible events, treated more memories, and got serious results even in the first treatment session.

EMDR makes sense for your brain and your wallet! You can find out much, much more on EMDR and how it treats PTSD in articles throughout my blog. Take a look!

(The scientific article referred to in this post can be found on page 2 of the "Journal of EMDR Practice and Research," Vol. 14, No. 1, 2020)

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