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- Go to article: The Current Status of EMDR Therapy Involving the Treatment of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a diagnostic entity that will be included in the forthcoming edition of the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11). It denotes a severe form of PTSD, comprising not only the symptom clusters of PTSD (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition [DSM-IV-TR]), but also clusters reflecting difficulties in regulating emotions, disturbances in relational capacities, and adversely affected belief systems about oneself, others, or the world. Evidence is mounting suggesting that first-line trauma-focused treatments, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, are effective not only for the treatment of PTSD, but also for the treatment of patients with a history of early childhood interpersonal trauma who are suffering from symptoms characteristic of CPTSD. However, controversy exists as to when EMDR therapy should be offered to people with CPTSD. This article reviews the evidence in support of EMDR therapy as a first-line treatment for CPTSD and addresses the fact that there appears to be little empirical evidence supporting the view that there should be a stabilization phase prior to trauma processing in working with CPTSD.
Research has consistently demonstrated that performance is degraded when participants engage in two simultaneous tasks that require the same working memory resources. This study tested predictions from working memory theory to investigate the effects of eye movement (EM) on the components of autobiographical memory. In two experiments, 24 and 36 participants, respectively, focused on negative memories while engaging in three dual-attention EM tasks of increasing complexity. Compared to No-EM, Slow-EM and Fast-EM produced significantly decreased ratings of image vividness, thought clarity, and emotional intensity, and the more difficult Fast-EM resulted in larger decreases than did Slow-EM. The effects on emotional intensity were not consistent, with some preliminary evidence that a focus on memory-related thought might maintain emotional intensity during simple dual-attention tasks (Slow-EM, No-EM). The findings of our experiments support a working memory explanation for the effects of EM dual-attention tasks on autobiographical memory. Implications for understanding the mechanisms of action in EMDR are discussed.
This brief narrative review begins with an overview of posttraumatic response and explains the value of early treatment in reducing/eliminating symptoms of distress and possibly preventing the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other disorders. The article then summarizes the efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy as an early intervention treatment. It outlines the historical context of EMDR early interventions and describes the three protocols which have research support from randomized controlled trials (RCTs), elaborating on their supportive evidence in seven RCTs conducted within 3 months of the traumatic event. These studies showed that EMDR early interventions significantly reduced symptoms of traumatic stress and prevented any exacerbation of symptoms. EMDR was superior to wait-list and to control conditions of critical incident stress debriefing, reassurance therapy, and supportive counseling. The article also examines the disparate evaluations of EMDR early interventions in the PTSD treatment guidelines, from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the World Health Organization, and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Despite promising clinical experience and initial controlled studies, there are still substantive gaps in the evidence base for EMDR early interventions. The article concludes with recommendations for future research, emphasizing that future trials adhere to the highest standards for clinical research and that they investigate whether EMDR early intervention prevents the development of PTSD or increases resilience.
Unlike high-intensity treatment, in which clients have face-to-face contact with a mental health specialist, clients in low-intensity treatment have limited or no contact with a specialist. Instead, their treatment is usually provided through self-help procedures, which are delivered via (guided) computer programs, books, or “mHealth" apps. Other treatments sometimes considered low-intensity are brief treatments, group therapy, and interventions delivered by nonspecialists. Advantages include effectiveness, accessibility, efficiency, and affordability. Concerns related to safety, engagement, and adherence to self-help programs may be addressed by (asynchronous) therapist guidance. This article describes low-intensity treatments and their relevance for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Hundreds of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have found self-help interventions to be efficacious, with many producing the same level of results as the traditional face-to-face procedure. Guided self-help cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder in the guidelines of both the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. Only three self-help-EMDR RCTs have been conducted. This author advocates for reconceptualizing EMDR group therapy as “guided self-help-EMDR therapy,” because it is a highly manualized, heavily scripted treatment in which the client works independently on their own material. In this respect, it offers an excellent template for the future development of efficacious low-intensity EMDR interventions. Developing safe, easy-to-use, affordable, and readily available low-intensity interventions will make effective EMDR treatment available to many millions of people around the world.
Thirty years after its introduction in 1989, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has evolved to become a comprehensive psychotherapy, guided by Shapiro's adaptive information processing model. Her model views most mental health disorders as stemming from unprocessed earlier disturbing events. This understanding of the etiological role of trauma has opened the door for EMDR treatment of multiple types of presentations. There are now more than 44 randomized controlled trials that have investigated EMDR treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), early traumatic stress, and traumatized children. In addition, there are 28 randomized controlled trials which have evaluated its use with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance use disorder, and pain. Seventy-five percent of these studies provided Shapiro's standardized procedure, while others tested modifications developed for specific populations. The focus of treatment varied across the studies, with various targets being processed to achieve good outcomes. The research demonstrates EMDR's effectiveness in reducing/eliminating PTSD and trauma-related symptoms, and in improving symptoms related to presenting problems and disorders. EMDR can be considered to have well-established efficacy for the treatment of PTSD. The emerging evidence for EMDR's efficacy with disorders other than PTSD must be considered preliminary and in need of replication conducted with randomized controlled trials using rigorous methodology. EMDR's position in various treatment guidelines is discussed, and the needs for future research are elaborated.