Is EMDR the Cure? - Page 2

By McCarton Ackerman 07/03/12

You may doubt that moving your eyes a certain way can treat crippling addictions and repressed memories. But a bevy of doctors and satisfied patients swear otherwise.

Keeping an eye on EMDR Photo via

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Despite the psychological outcome studies that have come out in favor of EMDR as a method for treating addiction and addressing traumatic experiences, the therapy still has its share of critics who argue that it remains unclear how the therapy works—and that it may not be more effective than other exposure-based treatments. “There’s no peer reviewed evidence that EMDR works for drug addiction and most studies clearly show that EMDR doesn’t work better than other exposure-based treatments,” says Dr. Scott Lillenfeld, a Professor of Psychology at Emory University. “That being said, there is pretty good evidence that it works better than no treatment for PTSD. It might be helpful in some way if the addiction is centered around those anxieties but I’d feel very comfortable in stating that it’s premature to say this can be used to treat drug addiction.” 

Penner himself even acknowledges that the concept of EMDR can be difficult for many to recognize as legitimate. “When I read an article on this 20 years ago, I laughed and threw it out,” he admits. “Who wouldn’t be skeptical? But there’s something about this therapy that allowed me to tolerate difficult emotions in a way that I simply wasn’t able to even when I was using to escape them.”

Shapiro still continues to expand the therapy through the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program, which started in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombings and provides free treatments and clinical training to countries suffering from natural disasters and political violence. The therapists are all volunteers who work in exchange for travel and modest lodging and they’ve been on-site to help deal with events such as the conflict in Northern Ireland and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts as well as 9/11 in New York, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Turkey for the 2011 earthquake.

But regardless of where the sessions are being conducted, there are plenty of advocates for the treatment who believe that EMDR drastically improved the quality of their life. “It felt like my traumatic experiences had been filed away in a cabinet, only sideways,” Maria concludes. “Going through EMDR therapy helped place it right side up.”

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Time Out New YorkThe Huffington Post, and, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among many other topics, for The Fix.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.