EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a new psychotherapeutic method aimed at processing memories of traumatic events, thereby ameliorating the psychological consequences of these memories. EMDR involves elements from several different psychological approaches. It is uncertain which of the treatment elements are effective. Clients with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the main target group for EMDR treatment. Although both children and adults have been treated with EMDR, this document is aimed particularly at children and adolescents.
Published studies of EMDR mainly cover adults with PTSD. There are two randomized and controlled studies, one of which has yet to be published, of EMDR treatment in 47 children and adolescents. One of the studies suggests that EMDR yields a better treatment outcome in the short term compared to the control treatment (active listening). In the second study, no significant difference was found between EMDR treatment in combination with standard treatment and standard treatment alone as regards reduction in avoidance and invading thoughts. However, the PTSD symptom of behavioral disorders declined significantly in the EMDR group. Furthermore, numerous case studies suggest that EMDR has a positive treatment effect in children and adolescents with PTSD. No harmful effects have been reported.
There are no economic assessments of EMDR. Limited data suggest that fewer treatments are needed to achieve the desired outcome with EMDR compared to other psychotherapeutic methods. This suggests that EMDR is a potentially cost-effective method in relation to the alternatives, under the assumption that the effects of treatment are permanent.
There is moderate* scientific evidence to show the benefits of EMDR treatment in children and adolescents. There is no* documentation concerning the cost-effectiveness or effects beyond 6 months.
Since the scientific documentation is limited, the effects of EMDR treatment in both the short and long term should be compared in studies with other treatment alternatives, including standard treatment. Furthermore, the cost-effectiveness of the method should be studied under Swedish conditions.
*This assessment by SBU Alert uses a 4-point scale to grade the quality and evidence of the scientific documentation. The grades indicate: (1) good, (2) moderate, (3) poor, or (4) no scientific evidence on the subject.
This summary is based on a report prepared at SBU in collaboration with Kerstin Bergh Johannesson, Lic. Psychol., Akademiska Hospital, Uppsala and has been reviewed by Prof. Mats Fredriksson, Uppsala University, Uppsala.
The complete report is available in Swedish only.
Alert is a joint effort by the Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care (SBU), the Medical Products Agency, the National Board of Health and Welfare, and the Federation of Swedish County Councils.