Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lexicon of Madness -- EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): A form of exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress. The patient is instructed to relate the details of his traumatic experience while following with his eyes the rhythmically waving index finger of the therapist. It has been suggested by Francine Shapiro, the charismatic developer of EMDR, that eye tracking somehow aids "information processing," although the neuroscientific basis for this claim is dubious. Regardless, patients in clinical trials are more likely to experience reduced PTSD symptoms if they are randomly assigned to receive EMDR, versus being assigned to a wait-list control group (i.e., receive no treatment). In fact, EMDR appears to be just as effective as other trauma therapies. Interestingly, in studies in which therapists deliver EMDR either with or without the finger-waggling/eye-tracking, patients seem to improve the same amount no matter what group they are in. In other words, the finger-waggling doesn't seem to be an active ingredient in the treatment. EMDR has been compared to Mesmerism, in which the power of suggestion was the only therapeutic agent; this does not seem quite fair, however. It seems that what patients are getting is simply a variant of exposure therapy, but with a quasi-neurological facade. Because EMDR sounds to laypersons more "scientific" than traditional "talk therapy," some patients may be more amenable to trying it.

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