If you’ve done EMDR with your therapist, you know that it can initially feel incredibly strange in comparison to more traditional talk therapy modalities. Particularly, the idea of reprocessing traumatic memories using eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (such as vibrating “buzzers”) can also initially make some wonder if this modality is going to work, as it does not involve heavy traditional talk therapy. The good news is: EMDR works for many people. Since Francine Shapiro created EMDR in the late 1980s, a plethora of research has been conducted. In this short blog, I will briefly touch on two common questions I get as an EMDR therapist and provide some research relating to these questions.
Question 1: Does EMDR work with children and adolescents?
While there is more research than I could possibly fit in a brief blog post, I wanted to highlight two studies that reflect EMDR’s efficacy with children and adolescents suffering from trauma symptoms. A 2009 meta-analysis by Rodenburg et al. was conducted regarding children with post-traumatic stress symptoms and indicated the efficacy of EMDR with children. The post-treatment effect size was significant (d=.56). Secondly, a study by Karadag et al. (2020) further proved the efficacy of EMDR with children as well as adolescents. Most notably, they found a significant contrast between PTSD symptom scores before and after EMDR therapy (p<.05).
Question 2: In treating trauma, how does EMDR compare to more traditional talk therapy modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
This is also a question that would take far longer than a brief blog to answer, but I wanted to include some research that supports EMDR’s efficacy over CBT in treating trauma. In one study, mentioned, EMDR has similar treatment effects but at a far quicker rate.
Khan et al. (2018) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials to compare CBT and EMDR. Meta-analysis of eleven studies (n= 547) revealed that EMDR is far more effective than CBT in decreasing trauma symptoms [SDM (95% CI) = -0.43 (-0.73 – -0.12), p = 0.006].
A more “micro” study by Faretta et al. (2016) was conducted comparing EMDR and CBT with oncological patients. Thirty-one subjects underwent EMDR therapy, and twenty-six subjects underwent CBT for 12 sessions. A notable improvement was seen in the group that underwent EMDR in 11 of the 17 dependent variables (all three Davidson Trauma Scale subscales, etc.), while the CBT group only showed a notable improvement in 4 of the 17 variables (including two of the Davidson Trauma Scale subscales). This study in particular reflects the importance of trauma-informed therapy for cancer patients.
Lastly, de Roos et al. (2011) conducted a randomized comparison of CBT and EMDR in disaster-exposed children. A total of 52 children were divided into EMDR and CBT groups after an explosion at a fireworks factory. Both treatment approaches resulted in noteworthy decreases in all assessments. However, EMDR treatment gains were achieved in fewer sessions- a vital component of effective post-disaster psychotherapeutic treatment.
I could spend hours and hours combing through research regarding a wide variety of ways EMDR can help people, and that’s one of my favorite things about this modality. Every modality has its faults and limitations, but this I do know: EMDR changes lives and heals trauma in many scenarios. For more information on EMDR, please visit www.emdria.org and/or speak with an EMDR-trained professional.
de Roos, C., Greenwald, R., den Hollander-Gijsman, M., Noorthoorn, E., van Buuren, S., & de Jongh, A. (2011). A randomised comparison of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) in disaster-exposed children. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 2(1), 5694. https://doi.org/10.3402/ejpt.v2i0.5694
Faretta, E., Borsato, T., Civilotti, C., Fernandez, I., & Pagani, M. (2016). EMDR and CBT: A Comparative Clinical Study With Oncological Patients. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 10(3), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3126.96.36.199
Karadag, M., Gokcen, C., & Sarp, A. S. (2019). EMDR therapy in children and adolescents who have post-traumatic stress disorder: a six-week follow-up study. International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 24(1), 77–82. https://doi.org/10.1080/13651501.2019.1682171
Khan, A. M., Dar, S., Ahmed, R., Bachu, R., Adnan, M., & Kotapati, V. P. (2018). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy versus Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in Patients with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.3250
Rodenburg, R., Benjamin, A., de Roos, C., Meijer, A. M., & Stams, G. J. (2009). Efficacy of EMDR in children: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(7), 599–606. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2009.06.008