Does EMDR Work for PTSD in Just 5 Sessions?
And what about its long-term effects of EMDR? Do the benefits continue even after treatment has ended? Yes again.
For the first answer, I turn to Swedish researchers who examined 24 subjects who had just five sessions of EMDR therapy for the treatment of PTSD. After the five-session treatment, 67% of the subjects no longer met criteria for PTSD (compared to 10% of the control group), and there were significant differences post-treatment between the groups in Global Assessment of Function (GAF) scores and Hamilton Depression (HAM-D) scores. These latter two measures helped to measure how the person actually felt (versus some objective, but clinical, third-party diagnostic criteria). That’s significant, because it means that not only did two-thirds of those who received the EMDR treatment not meet the criteria for PTSD any longer, they actually felt better too. Sometimes researchers forget to measure silly things like that.
How about the long-term benefits of EMDR? Do psychotherapy techniques like EMDR actually help people even after therapy has ended?
To answer this question, van der Kolk and associates earlier this year examined the efficacy of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), fluoxetine, with a psychotherapeutic treatment, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and pill placebo and measured maintenance of treatment gains at 6-month follow-up. They too relied on the clinical diagnostic criteria of PTSD as the primary outcome measure, but also used the Beck Depression Inventory II as a secondary measure (again, that pesky subjective measure needed to help determine whether any of this actually helps a person feel better!). Eighty-eight subjects were enrolled in the study, and the study again focused on brief treatment — this time, only eight sessions of EMDR were administered.
At 6-month follow-up, 75% of those whose PTSD was caused by an adult trauma were without PTSD symptoms in the EMDR group, compared with none in the fluoxetine group. With those whose PTSD was caused by childhood trauma, the results were less impressive — only 33% got better. For most childhood-onset trauma patients, neither treatment produced complete symptom remission.
As the researchers noted, brief EMDR treatment produces substantial and sustained reduction of PTSD and depression in most victims of adult-onset trauma.
So the next time you think psychotherapy has to take months or years to achieve its effects for the reduction in PTSD severity, point your therapist to this entry. Lasting effects can be had in just 5 to 8 weeks.
Högberg G, Pagani M, Sundin O, Soares J, Aberg-Wistedt A, Tärnell B, Hällström T. (2007). On treatment with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder in public transportation workers–a randomized controlled trial. Nord J Psychiatry, 61(1):54-61.
van der Kolk BA, Spinazzola J, Blaustein ME, Hopper JW, Hopper EK, Korn DL, Simpson WB. (2007). A randomized clinical trial of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), fluoxetine, and pill placebo in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: treatment effects and long-term maintenance. J Clin Psychiatry, 68(1):37-46.
Grohol, J. (2018). Does EMDR Work for PTSD in Just 5 Sessions?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/does-emdr-work-for-ptsd-in-just-5-sessions/