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Research suggests that EMDR is as effective as CBT for treatment of depression

In research conducted by Ostacoli et al, printed in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology, they show promising hope for depression treated with EMDR:

Anectdotal evidence from private practice clinicians over the past 20 years has suggested that EMDR is a highly effective treatment in alleviating distress caused by memories of and brain networks associated with adverse life events. In recent years, the application of EMDR beyond PTSD has expanded rapidly. It is currently being used as a treatment for a wide range of disorders that follow distressing life experiences (Shapiro and Maxfield, 2002). Several books, conference presentations, and case reports suggest its applicability in treating depression too (Wood and Ricketts, 2013; Luber, 2016).

Depression is the condition considered to bear the greatest responsibility for health decrements worldwide, due to its prevalence and its chronic and recurrent nature (WHO, 2017). Therefore, understanding its etiology and identifying effective and lasting treatments is a global health priority. Antidepressant medication are the current standard of treatment in clinical practice, but they appear to be symptom-suppressive rather than curative (Hollon et al., 2002) and do not appear to maintain their effectiveness in terms of reducing future risk of depressive episodes once their course is completed (DeRubeis et al., 2008).

EMDR Addresses the Memory Networks that Contribute to Depressive Symptoms

In 2010, a group of European researchers founded the European Depression EMDR Network (EDEN) with the purpose of evaluating the efficacy of EMDR in this disorder in different contexts and with different methodologies. The underlying hypothesis is that EMDR therapy could directly address memories of adverse and traumatic experiences that are significant contributors to the onset and maintenance of depressive episodes.

This was the first randomized controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of EMDR in comparison with CBT in patients affected by recurrent depression and treated with ADM.

The most significant result highlighted by this study is that the majority of patients were able to significantly reduce their depression symptoms level after only 15 therapy sessions, and to sustain this clinical benefit 6 months after the end of the psychotherapeutic intervention. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy treatment was shown to be as effective as CBT in reducing the proportion of patients with a level of depressive symptoms above the clinical threshold, both at the end of the treatment and 6 months later, with response rates similar to those reported in previous studies (DeRubeis et al., 2005; Hollon et al., 2005).

EMDR Exceeds CBT in Remission Following Treatment

At the same time, EMDR exceeded CBT in terms of the proportion of patients who could be considered to be in remission after the end of the interventions. In addition, the results for depressive symptoms trend showed that both interventions were effective in reducing clinical levels of depression, with a significant difference in favor of EMDR treatment at the end of the intervention phase. At the 6-month follow-up, within the EMDR group there was a tendency to remain below the clinical threshold that was not apparent in the CBT group.

Compared to CBT, EMDR Continues to Reduce Depression at all Phases of Treatment

Interestingly, EMDR and CBT showed a similar trend of clinical improvement in depressive symptoms in the initial phase of the intervention (i.e., until Assessment-2), but then exhibited different trajectories between Assessment-2 and post-treatment (T1). In this second phase, EMDR continued to significantly reduce depression levels until the end of the intervention, while CBT only maintained the gains made in the first phase. It is possible to interpret this result by looking in-depth at the contents of the treatment sessions. In the first four to five sessions, EMDR treatment focused on assessment and stabilization, thus exerting a similar effect to that of CBT. After EMDR’s specific work on trauma reprocessing started (around Assessment-3), EMDR showed an increase in effectiveness while CBT effects remained virtually unchanged.


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