EMDR: Some Distinguishing Characteristics

Back in March, in the wake of the tragedy in Afghanistan when 17 were allegedly murdered in their homes by U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, military clinical psychologist Mark C. Russell, Ph.D., ABPP, penned a piece for the Huffington Post that touches upon some of the politics involved in using — or not using — Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). He includes a brief bulleted list of things that differentiate EMDR from other exposure therapies:

• requiring little client self-disclosure and minimal therapist input

• not compelling clients to repetitively retell vivid details of trauma events

• requiring no homework, as compared to 40-60 hours of CBT homework completion

• not requiring teaching of coping skills, cognitive restructuring, or rational disputation

• a single protocol shown to simultaneously treat symptoms associated to PTSD, depression, anger, dissociation, traumatic grief, guilt, and medically unexplained symptoms including phantom limb pain

• effectiveness with both acute and chronic stress injuries

• better tolerated by clients than exposure therapies (e.g., PE [Prolonged Exposure])

• generally more rapid treatment effects than standard talk therapies

I can’t speak to all these assertions, but Russell cites the following article:

Russell, M.C. (2008). Scientific resistance to research, training, and utilization of EMDR therapy in treating post-war disorders. Social Science and Medicine, 67(11), 1737-1746].


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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