How Eye Movement May Be as Good as Therapy for Trauma Victims

It is an intriguing if not ridiculous sounding idea, but there is some evidence that an obscure therapeutic practice called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be effective at treating people suffering from severe trauma. More from The Atlantic:

Here’s the idea: The person is told to focus on the troubling image or negative thought while simultaneously moving his or her eyes back and forth. To prompt this, the therapist might move his fingers from side to side, or he might use a tapping or waving of a wand. The patient is told to let her mind go blank and notice whatever sensations might come to mind. These steps are repeated throughout the session.

The psychologist Francine Shapiro invented EMDR in the 1980s when she noticed that moving her eyes from side to side seemed to reduce the occurrence of her own distressing memories. Later on, she theorized that trauma causes negative emotions to be stored within the same memory network as a troubling event. EMDR, she says, helps rewire these connections.

Some experts think the eye movements help re-shuffle memories so that when they are stored again, they lose some of their traumatic power.

“People describe that the memories become less vivid and more distant, that they seem further in the past and harder to focus on”, Chris Lee, a psychologist and EMDR practitioner at Murdoch University in Australia, told Scientific American.

Like so many other seemingly unconventional approaches, there is some dispute regarding EMDR’s effectiveness; some meta-analyses have found EMDR to be no better than cognitive-behavioral therapy, while a more recent study found EMDR to work better at alleviating PTSD than other forms of stimuli, or than keeping eyes closed.

Moreover, research shows that EMDR also works faster than other forms of therapy, with the majority of trauma victims seeing palpable benefits after just three 90-minute sessions.

From Syrian refugees and combat veterans, to even obese trauma victims, EMDR  seems to have a lot of promise — little wonder that it has been recommended by prominent institutions like the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Departments of Defense and of Veterans Affairs.

To be sure, like any therapy or treatment, EMDR cannot help everyone; most people benefit from a combination of techniques and/or medications, often tailored to suit their particular needs. But some types might be more helpful for certain people than others, and it is always good to have more options available, especially options as seemingly simple yet broadly effective as eye movement. Here is hoping more research emerges on this interesting approach.

What are your thoughts?

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