Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has plagued human beings since the beginning of time. Whether it being referred to as shell shock, combat exhaustion, battle fatigue, or PTSD it has been a problem that effects the lives of combat veterans, first responders, and anyone else involved in a traumatic experience. Although physicians and the rest of society are more informed of the problems PTSD causes for those suffering from it, there are still many questions on how to best treat it.
People suffering from PTSD show a variety of signs and symptoms. These include but are not limited to trouble sleeping, nightmares, depression, feeling isolated from the rest of society, among other things. There is no long term cure for PTSD that is fully accepted by Doctors around the country. Doctors have been experimenting with the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment in hopes of relieving stress in their patients. EMDR’s work by patients and therapists discussing negative memories and linking them to specific eye movements, usually by moving a finger or small object back and forth in front of the patients face. Afterwards these eye movements are linked to positive thoughts in hopes that the same eye movements made when thinking of a traumatic event will translate into something positive.
EMDR was first discovered in 1980 by Dr. Francine Shapiro. One day Dr. Shapiro took a hike through the woods and noticed her stress had nearly disappeared as she moved her eyes back and forth to observe her surroundings. After realizing the relief she felt from this, she asked her patients to try, and it was met with great success. There are two explanations as to why patients feel relief after EDMR treatment. The first, is the belief that EDMR effects the patients Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the stage of the sleep cycle closely associated with dreams. During the REM cycle a persons eyes are still active, often moving back in forth. When patients feel relief during EDMR therapy it is believed that this relief translates into a more relaxed REM cycle, therefore the patient receives a more restful sleep. The second, is the belief that the patient uses both the left and right side of the brain in order to follow the object being waved in front of their face. The benefits of synchronizing both sides of the brain are having a better perception of reality, self awareness, and feelings of optimism.
EDMR’s growing popularity has sparked debate within the science community. The first controlled study was conducted in 1989, by Dr. Shapario. In this study of twenty- two people one group underwent EDMR treatment, while the other under went group therapy sessions, another common treatment from those suffering from PTSD. Her studies concluded that the first group who went through EDMR felt relief after the first session, while those in group therapy felt little to no relief at all. Scientists within the community challenged Shapario saying that she was biased to the group who underwent EDMR, because she had developed the therapy. Other arguments were that the trial was too small, and that there was no way of measuring who suffered from worse cases of PTSD. A number of both controlled and uncontrolled studies have taken place since Shapario’s study. The general consensus is that EDMR often does offer relief to patients, but there’s no way to measure the results or tell if this is due to other variables. Scientists opposing the effectiveness of EDMR make the argument that it could be due to the placebo effect, third variables, and negative results not being published (file drawer effect).
Debates over EDMR’s effectiveness are still going on today. There are no solid explanations or results linking EDMR to relief but many organizations around the country have adopted the practice, based off the fact that many patients feel better after receiving the treatment. Since its formal introduction in 1989, more than 20,000 psychologists have studied EDMR. As the practice continues to grow it looks like EDMR will be a preferred treatment method for patients who suffer from PTSD.