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As noted in the WHO (2013) guidelines and the American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines (2004, p.18), in EMDR therapy “traumatic material need not be verbalized; instead, patients are directed to think about their traumatic experiences without having to discuss them.” Given the reluctance of many combat veterans to divulge the details of their experience, this factor is relevant to willingness to initiate treatment, retention and therapeutic gains. It may be one of the factors responsible for the lower remission and higher dropout rate noted in this population when CBT techniques are used.
As described previously, Carlson et al. (1998) reported that after twelve EMDR treatment sessions, 77.7% of the combat veterans no longer met criteria for PTSD. There were no dropouts and effects were maintained at 3- and 9-month follow-up. In addition, the Silver et al., (1995) analysis of an inpatient veterans’ PTSD program (n = 100) found EMDR to be superior to biofeedback and relaxation training on seven of eight measures. All other randomized studies of veterans have used insufficient treatment doses to assess PTSD outcomes (e.g., two sessions; see ISTSS, 2000; DVA/DoD, 2004). Sufficient treatment time must be used for multiply traumatized veterans (e.g., see below: Russell et al., 2007). However, in a process analysis, Rogers et al. (1999) compared one session of EMDR and exposure therapy with inpatient veterans, and a different recovery pattern was observed. The EMDR group demonstrated a more rapid decline in self-reported distress (e.g., SUD levels decreased with EMDR and increased with exposure).
As stated in the American Psychiatric Practice Guidelines (2004, p. 36), if viewed as an exposure therapy, “EMDR employs techniques that may give the patient more control over the exposure experience (since EMDR is less reliant on a verbal account) and provides techniques to regulate anxiety in the apprehensive circumstance of exposure treatment. Consequently, it may prove advantageous for patients who cannot tolerate prolonged exposure as well as for patients who have difficulty verbalizing their traumatic experiences. Comparisons of EMDR with other treatments in larger samples are needed to clarify such differences.”
Such research is highly recommended. In addition, since EMDR utilizes no homework to achieve its effects it may be particularly suited for front line alleviation of symptoms (see Russell, 2006; Wesson & Gould, 2009). Further, the prevalent somatic and chronic pain problems experienced by combat veterans indicate the need for additional research based upon the reports of Russell (2008), Schneider et al., (2007, 2008) and Wilensky (2007), which demonstrate EMDR’s capacity to successfully treat phantom limb pain (see also Ray & Zbik, 2001). The ability of EMDR to simultaneously address PTSD, depression, and pain can have distinct benefits for DVA/DoD treatment.