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Tue Jan 22, 2013, 04:24 PM

Can Eye Movements Treat Trauma?

Scientific American

Imagine you are trying to put a traumatic event behind you. Your therapist asks you to recall the memory in detail while rapidly moving your eyes back and forth, as if you are watching a high-speed Ping-Pong match. The sensation is strange, but many therapists and patients swear by the technique, called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Although skeptics continue to question EMDR's usefulness, recent research supports the idea that the eye movements indeed help to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Much of the EMDR debate hinges on the issue of whether the eye movements have any benefit or whether other aspects of the therapeutic process account for patients' improvement. The first phase of EMDR resembles the start of most psychotherapeutic relationships: a therapist inquires about the patient's issues, early life events, and desired goals to achieve rapport and a level of comfort. The second phase is preparing the client to mentally revisit the traumatic event, which might involve helping the person learn ways to self-soothe, for example. Finally, the memory processing itself is similar to other exposure-based therapies, minus the eye movements. Some experts argue that these other components of EMDR have been shown to be beneficial as part of other therapy regimens, so the eye movements may not deserve any of the credit. New studies suggest, however, that they do.

In a January 2011 study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, for example, some patients with PTSD went through a session of EMDR while others completed all the components of a typical EMDR session but kept their eyes closed rather than moving them. The patients whose session included eye movements reported a more significant reduction in distress than did patients in the control group. Their level of physiological arousal, another common symptom of PTSD, also decreased during the eye movements, as measured by the amount of sweat on their skin.

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Reply Can Eye Movements Treat Trauma? (Original post)
Celebration Jan 2013 OP
Jackpine Radical Jan 2013 #1
Celebration Jan 2013 #2
Dont call me Shirley Jan 2013 #3
Warpy Jan 2013 #4
Jackpine Radical Jan 2013 #5
Warpy Jan 2013 #6
Jackpine Radical Jan 2013 #7

Response to Celebration (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 04:34 PM

1. The "eye movement" part of this is a red herring.

EMDR is often done with other forms of bilateral stimulation, such as taps on the backs of the hands or shoulders, or with clicks presented to alternating ears, etc. You can even have the client cross their arms across their chest and tap themselves on the shoulders. I know a lot of therapists who have used it for many years, and they swear by it. Sometimes you can clear traumatic baggage in just a few sessions.

By way of disclosure, I have used it clinically since I was trained in it in 1996, and consider it an indispensable therapeutic tool.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #1)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 04:40 PM

2. yes, anecdotally all of that works

But it is hard to get this information out into the mainstream, which is why the Scientific American article is good.

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Response to Celebration (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 05:11 PM

3. YES. IT WORKS

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Response to Celebration (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 05:21 PM

4. EMDR has been controversial for the last 10 years

because it doesn't work 100% of the time, but what does?

It really does seem to work spectacularly in a few people, reasonably well in many others, not at all in a few.

It's a technique psychologists need to be trained in.

I'm just glad they're doing the grunt work of measuring the quantifiable things like GSR. Maybe it'll be less controversial after this study.

It's one of those things that looks like pure woo but isn't.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #4)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 05:51 PM

5. Actually, I have some pre-post-EMDR EEG data collected at least 15 years ago.

showing dramatic diferences in brain activation patterns.

And before getting into EMDR I used brainwave training to address PTSD, training slow-wave activity, which then releases traumatic materials that you work through in therapy with the client. After learning EMDR, I integrated the 2 approaches, which turned out to be quite complementary.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #5)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 05:56 PM

6. Nice to hear from someone still in the trenches

I'm just glad to see real treatments for PTSD emerge after all these years of returning soldiers left in misery to self medicate with alcohol or numb out with heavy drugs.

It just sounds preposterous that something like moving one's eyes would work when nothing else has.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #6)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 06:56 PM

7. I'm sure there are other ways to do it besides bilateral stim.

I think the essence is really to provide a somewhat distracting stimulus that keeps people from escalating into traumatic states while processing the memories. Bilateral stim works, so does alpha-theta brainwave biofeedback.

Here's a link to a section in a book that discusses some of my writing on the integration of the 2 methods.

http://books.google.com/books?id=EzMhV3EpdqEC&pg=PA207&lpg=PA207&dq=peterson+neurotherapy+EMDR&source=bl&ots=xthMutFGqp&sig=96zC3DxpbyUxXXp-52fp1NTw2Ys&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FSb_UO_ILIS-qgGf3IHADg&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=peterson%20neurotherapy%20EMDR&f=false

The original article doesn't seem to be online anymore. The original reference is below, but you'd probably have to get it through your library or something:

Peterson, J.M. (2000). Notes on the role of neurotherapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress
disorder. Biofeedback, 28, 3.

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