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Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy

Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy

Just as our physical body is constantly trying to heal itself in response to bumps and bruises, our mind is also trying to do the same thing.

Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy accelerates the brain’s natural healing processes to repair the faulty processing of memory that occurs with trauma.

Discovered accidently by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987, she observed that as her eyes moved rapidly, it “produced a dramatic relief from her distress” (Van Der Kolk, p. 253).

EEG tracings show that during EMDR processing, the bilateral stimulation using eye movements causes the brain to behave in a similar fashion to REM sleep where there is a synchronisation of all cortical activity at a frequency in the delta range like slow-wave sleep. EMDR seems to temporarily slow down the over-stimulated amygdala and hippocampus (the part of the brain activated in response to threat) and synchronises the brain waves to support connection to the thinking, rational part of the brain (the left hemisphere) thereby providing access to the adaptive neural networks.

The specific areas of the brain that are involved in this ‘EMDR induced active state’ are responsible for higher brain functions and include the prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex.

This is important because:

    • The prefrontal cortex – responsible for planning, organising, focusing, problem solving, personality expression and impulse control.
    • The orbitofrontal cortex – connects to the brain’s sensory regions, memory, emotion centres and social behaviour.
    • The anterior cingulate cortex – connects to both the emotional limbic brain and the cognitive prefrontal cortex which gives it an important function in the control and management of uncomfortable emotions. It works to regulate impulse control, as well as empathy and judgment.

This means that during an EMDR session, these areas of our brain are actively working to process and resolve the trauma memory and associated emotions.

What kind of success rate does EMDR therapy have?

EMDR has a broad base of published case reports and controlled research that supports it as an empirically validated treatment of trauma and other adverse life experiences. The Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Practice Guidelines have placed EMDR in the highest category, recommended for all trauma populations. In addition, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies current treatment guidelines have designated EMDR as an effective treatment for PTSD (Foa, Keane, Friedman, & Cohen, 2009) as have the Departments of Health of Northern Ireland, Israel and the United Kingdom which have indicated EMDR to be one of only two or three treatments of choice for trauma victims. The American Psychiatric Association Practice Guideline (2004) has stated that SSRI’s, CBT, and EMDR are recommended as first-line treatments of trauma. Most recently, the World Health Organization (2013) has stated that trauma-focused CBT and EMDR are the only psychotherapies recommended for children, adolescents, and adults with PTSD.

Here’s some research conducted on the efficiency of EMDR Therapy:

  • According to the EMDR Research Foundation, over 30 studies have recorded the success of EMDR therapy for treatment of sexual abuse, PTSD, rape, childhood trauma, life-threatening accidents, anxiety, substance abuse, and depression over the last 30 years.
  • Some studies by EMDR Institute, Inc. revealed that after only three 90-minute sessions, 84% to 90 % of single-trauma victims no longer have PTSD.
  • A study conducted in 2010 revealed that EMDR improves the cognitive processing of emotions and the structure of concepts in long-term memory storage.
  • “A 2014 research study looked at 24 randomized controlled trials that support the effectiveness of EMDR therapy for the treatment of trauma. The results of some of these studies suggested that EMDR therapy is more effective than CBT for trauma.

Brain scans have clearly demonstrated changes after EMDR therapy, returning the brain to more ‘normal’ functioning. The bottom line of EMDR outcome research is that EMDR works extremely well and that clinical change can be both profound and efficient.

While the hallmark of EMDR lies in treating trauma, it is also been shown to be very helpful in treating anxiety, panic attacks, depression, pain management, performance anxiety and more. If you feel you might benefit from this powerful trauma therapy, contact me at Mind Wellness Therapy.


Mind Wellness Therapy provides EMDR therapy and psychological expertise in the treatment of anxiety, PTSD, trauma, grief, stress management, depression and more.

Contact us today or call us on 07 3374 2770

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