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EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

What Do the Guidelines Recommend?

Guidelines issued by more than one professional organization have recently boosted the credibility of EMDR. These guidelines define who may benefit from the treatment. For example:

  • The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has noted that EMDR is effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic PTSD. According to the APA, EMDR may be particularly useful for people who have trouble talking about the traumatic events they've experienced. The APA guidelines note that other research is needed to tell whether improvements from EMDR can be sustained over time.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have jointly issued clinical practice guidelines. These guidelines "strongly recommended" EDMR for the treatment of PTSD in both military and non-military populations. They also note that this approach has been as effective as other psychological treatments in some studies, and less effective in others.

How Does EMDR Work?

Even the most enthusiastic supporters of EMDR have not agreed on how the therapy works. At this point, only theories exist. By inducing the recall of distressing events and diverting attention from their emotional consequences, EMDR in some respects borrows basic principles used in prolonged exposure therapy, the gold standard behavioral psychotherapeutic treatment of PTSD. Some therapists believe that EMDR reduces anxiety. This allows patients to better take control of their upsetting thoughts. Others simply say that we don't yet understand how EMDR works. According to the APA guidelines, EMDR needs further study to more fully understand it.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on August 15, 2015
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