March 3, 2005 5:17 AM   Subscribe

Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (or EMDR) a load of bollocks or a legitimate treatment? Any pitfalls or unintended consequences to look out for?
posted by alan to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Tried it in the mid-90s, via one of the earlier practitioners -- didn't work at all on me.
posted by davidmsc at 5:53 AM on March 3, 2005

I'm skeptical, but my mother-in-law has been doing EMDR for a few months and swears it helped her deal with a childhood trauma and subsequent panic attacks; however, it sounds like her therapist combines it with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, so it's difficult to determine if the EMDR is healing her or the CBT - or, obviously, both. Perhaps you too can find a practitioner who combines a more traditional therapy like CBT with the more newfangled EMDR. At any rate, I can't think of a reason not to try it out.
posted by katie at 7:15 AM on March 3, 2005

EMDR does what all mental health therapies do, which is help. It is no more nor less helpful than any other. Going to a person you trust really helps. Believing it will work helps even more. It's a load of bollocks only insofar as any claim of uniqueness is made for it, otherwise, it's fine.

Here's a brief take on a study about EMDR showing no specific benefit over other forms of therapy, and no more rapid improvement:

We told you so...more on EMDR
As the old EST saying goes, "I used to think I was different, now I'm the same." EMDR, like every other model of therapy to come along in the last 40 years, burst on the scene with dramatic claims (and studies) regarding effectiveness and efficiency. Clinicians signed up in droves to learn the process, hoping–like their clients–that the new methodology would lead to speedier recovery from traumatic events and, of course, happier lives. Evidence regarding the approach has been reviewed previously on the site questioning claims regarding the supposed "specific ingredients" in the method and differential efficacy. And now another study. Researchers in this well controlled study, randomized 60 people diagnosed with PTSD into either exposure-based treatment, EMDR, or relaxation training. Blind evaluators assessed outcome directly following treatment and at 3 month follow up. Importantly, outcomes from EMDR and relaxation training were not significantly different. Furthermore, compared with relaxation training and EMDR, exposure was associated with signficant improvement in re-experiencing and avoidance. Finally, EMDR showed no evidence of effecting more rapid improvement.
Taylor, S et al. (2003). Comparitive efficacy, speed, and adverse effects of three PTSD treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 330-338.

More info can be found on the site this is from, the baloney section of Talkingcure.com
posted by OmieWise at 7:18 AM on March 3, 2005

I've always thought it was interesting.

Huge amounts of cortex and brainstem, relatively speaking, are devoted to the processing of eye movements; it wouldn't surprise me at all if exploiting cortical plasticity to modify eye movements had other effects.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:57 AM on March 3, 2005

Well, I used EMDR in conjunction with regular counseling and a therapist that I trust. I found it remarkably helpful. There were no pitfalls (except for the occasional fleeting sense of silliness) and no unintended consequences. For me, the little distraction of the rapid eye movement seemed to interrupt the sadness/anger/whatever that festered from the roots of those wretched traumatic childhood experiences. It helped see me through to the other side of these things. However, if I had not had a therapist that I trusted completely, I would have found the process too silly and would not have made any effort to see if it could help me.
posted by omphale27 at 7:58 AM on March 3, 2005

exploiting cortical plasticity

if you read a description via google, you'll see that involves thinking about certain things while the eyes track a moving object. i'm not sure what that has to do with "exploiting cortical plasticity" (even though it does sound very impressive). personally, i'd be kind of disturbed if something as common as moving the eyes had severe psychological effects - at the very least, watching tennis should carry a health warning.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2005

I did EMDR to deal with post traumatic stress from surgery and it helped. It wasn't an end all be all, but it did help me. I had no ill side effects at all.
posted by tirebouchon at 8:18 AM on March 3, 2005

I went to a therapist about 3 years ago that used the technique, but i never really found it useful. The literature i was given said the treatment was most effective for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which made it seem odd that he was using it to cure my depression. In any case, it's my opinion that it definately can help people; but just not me. The science seems valid: the eye movements trick your body into thinking you're in REM. While in REM, your brain is working in a "different mode" and you're more likely to have a new way of thinking about a subject. Now that i've typed that out, i see quite a parallel between EMDR and hypnosis.
posted by escher at 8:22 AM on March 3, 2005

The science seems valid

aren't you confusing cause and effect? rapid eye movement is (broadly) a result of dreaming. that doesn't mean making the eye move rapidly puts you in a dream like state any more than, say, getting people to shout "eureka" helps them make great scientific discoveries.

(i don't have a stand for or against emdr, i'm just frustrated/depressed by the piss poor level of critical thought on this site.)
posted by andrew cooke at 9:08 AM on March 3, 2005

I had significant success with it, not in conjunction with any other therapy but as a standalone activity.
posted by bac at 9:11 AM on March 3, 2005

However, if I had not had a therapist that I trusted completely, I would have found the process too silly and would not have made any effort to see if it could help me.

Omphale says it best, therapuetic paradigm is significantly less important than havnig a good therapist that you trust. Some studies suggest that less than 1% of the efficacy of therapy can be attributted to the method used. In other words, methods are equal, but therapists are not.
posted by OmieWise at 9:19 AM on March 3, 2005

The most helpful part of the therapy seems not to be the eye movements (by the way, in one study tapping blind patients' hands was substituted for the visual tracking with identical results, or lack thereof), but the desentization and CBT aspects of the therapy--if you read the protocol for EMDR, it basically involves gradually desensitizing the traumatic memory in a supportive environment, and then replacing negative thoughts associated with the trauma with positive ones. Both CBT and desensitization therapies are well regarded and "proven" effective; there are very few good studies of EMDR out there.
posted by availablelight at 10:43 AM on March 3, 2005

andrew: Yeah, I'm a little confused about EMDR. Your eyes move when you're dreaming because you're looking around in the dream, it's not a processing thing, I thought.
posted by abcde at 1:08 PM on March 3, 2005

Andrew Cooke: Neocortex, or 6 layer cortex, which is involved in higher-level coordination of complex eye movements, and also in thinking about things, is also called 'association cortex,'.

Neurons learn to fire in various ways, but it turns out that a given neuron becomes more likely to fire when its inputs are firing in patterns that made it fire before. This sort of reinforcement is called 'Hebb's rule' and it forms the basis of plasticity, which is one of the properties of theoretical neural networks, at least. It's been invoked by scientists studying things as simple as sea squirts (primitive snail-like things) learning not to retract when you poke them repeatedly; and as complex as human learning and memory. I am interested in it professionally by way of its relationship, if any, to epilepsy and seizures.

Pavlov's dog eventually learned to salivate on ringing a bell, you'll recall; similar studies have been done using the nictitating membrane that cleanses the eyeballs of rabbits. Neurolinguistic programming devotees will often wear an elastic on their wrist, and snap it when they desire to feel refreshed; before they try that, though, they've spent many weeks conditioning themselves that a snap from the elastic is associated with a peaceful state of serenity and empowerment.

Why eye movements should be much different than the snap of an elastic band on your wrist isn't immediately apparent to me; and, as I say, really vast chunks of association cortex are involved with eye movements compared to that used to process painful stimuli from the wrist area. So it's not implausible.

Did that sound less impressive? I hope so; I'm not trying to be obfuscatory.

By the way, Dale Carnegie taught me that if you move the muscles of your face into a smiling position repeatedly, your mood will elevate. It's certainly true. Whether that means that frowning is dangerous is left as a thought-experiment.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:53 PM on March 3, 2005

One of my friends was just telling me a few weeks ago that she's found it very helpful in dealing with grief and long-standing family issues.
posted by belladonna at 5:09 PM on March 3, 2005

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