Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) has come a long way since I was first trained in it in 1993. Many who did not understand it thought it was just hypnosis or a passing fad. Those of us who practised it thought it was amazing. A few years later, I decided to specialise in trauma therapy because it was so good to have a treatment that actually cured many people! Such a rare outcome in psychiatry! Not to mention that it would often work in just a few treatment sessions (after detailed assessment sessions). People who had had nightmares and intrusive memories for years would come back saying things like, ‘What did you do to me?! I can’t recall it now even if I try.’
These days I’m often using EMDR to treat overweight people who unconsciously use their weight as a way of protecting themselves from potential abusers. Grilo et al* found that 69% of people awaiting bariatric surgery (e.g. gastric banding) had a history of childhood abuse.
I tend to forget that most of my colleagues see PTSD as a largelly untreatable condition and just prescribe medications and offer their sympathies. Worse still, they may get people to talk about the trauma, which, the research shows, will aggravate their condition. This is a tragedy for sufferers who find themselves in front of an uninformed professional.
Because it was the new kid on the block, EMDR worked hard to justify itself scientifically. Now it is recognised around the world as one of only two (maybe three) effective treatments for PTSD. Here in Australia in 2007, the Federal Goverment joined the rest of the world in only recognising EMDR and CBT as effective treatments for PTSD. Click here to download information booklet from the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health – ACPMH Guide for People with PTSD. On pages 14 and 17 you will see that it only recommends CBT and EMDR as other treatments have either not been adequately tested or are less effective.
I first started treating PTSD in 1984 and until EMDR came along I used CBT and imaginal flooding. It does work – but the big difference is that EMDR works more quickly with less drop-out because the uncomfortable phase ends sooner. This work can be quite gruelling for patients. The following document looks at some of the research showing that, of the two, EMDR is generally found to work more quickly, which is a big issue for (paying) sufferers: EMDR Efficacy