Confusion, misinformation and charges of “pseudoscience”?
EMDR is an active psychological treatment for PTSD that has been surrounded by confusion in the research review literature. One article (Perkins & Rouanzoin, 2002) examined the original empirical research in light of the review literature in order to understand the old controversies and contradictory conclusions that had been drawn by various authors and some significant conclusions were suggested.
The confusion appears to be due to (a) an inadequate awareness of the lack of placebo effects in treating PTSD; (b) a theoretical and methodological lack of distinction between EMDR and exposure procedures; (c) debates over the importance of the eye movement component of EMDR; (d) poorly designed outcome studies; and (e) historical misinformation which then becomes confounded with empirical research findings.
All of these old charges have been debunked by EMDR therapy’s current research base. EMDR therapy is advocated as a first line treatment to trauma worldwide (Research Overview).
However, some people may still be misinformed and the old misconceptions will be addressed below:
1) EMDR therapy is only superior to no treatment and/or has not been thoroughly tested.
This is inaccurate. EMDR therapy has been supported by more than twenty randomized studies and has been found superior in controlled studies to Veterans Administration (V.A.) standard care, biofeedback assisted relaxation, simple relaxation, active listening, and various forms of individual psychotherapy used at an HMO (e.g. exposure, cognitive, psychodynamic). It has also been compared to and found generally equal to cognitive behavioral therapy. While exposure therapy used 1-2 hours of daily homework, EMDR has achieved equivalent results with none (View Efficacy)
2) EMDR is only exposure therapy.
This is inaccurate. EMDR therapy has been found to be more rapid or superior on some measures to exposure therapy in 7 of 12 randomized studies. Exposure therapy uses 1-2 hours of daily homework and EMDR uses none. In addition, the EMDR practices have little in common with exposure therapy. A process analysis of the two found significant differences (Rogers et al., 1999) and some researchers subsequent to another study stated: “In strict exposure therapy the use of many of [‘a host of EMDR-essential treatment components’] is considered contrary to theory. Previous information also found that therapists and patients prefer this procedure over the more direct exposure procedure” (Boudewyns & Hyer, 1996, p.192) For additional references and details see Is EMDR an exposure therapy?
3) There is no reasons for the eye movements.
This is inaccurate. The information processing model was articulated in 1991 and has been thoroughly described in three texts. A number of neuropsychologists have also given detailed theories and descriptions of reasons for the effects of the eye movements. Numerous researchers have also articulated theories and conducted hypothesis driven research supporting the use of eye movements and other dual attention stimulation.
For references and details see: What are some hypothesized mechanisms of action for eye movements in EMDR?
At this point, the research is clear that the eye movements have a positive effect, EMDR therapy is not based on traditional exposure principles, and it is widely accepted as an empirically supported treatment of trauma. For a list of annotated studies see Research Overview.