Emperor's new clothes?
Stephen Joseph asks whether EMDR is a pseudoscientific repackaging of existing psychotherapeutic factors dressed up in the emperor’s new clothes of eye movements.
In the March issue of The Psychologist, Shapiro and Maxfield say that EMDR is an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. They point toward reviews by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (Chemtob et al., 2000) and the American Psychological Association (Chambless et al., 1998). What is less evident from Shapiro and Maxfield’s article is that the conclusions of these reviews were based on evidence that EMDR is probably more effective than no treatment at all. As McNally (1999a) notes, a similar conclusion might have been reached in the 18th century for the efficacy of Mesmer’s animal magnetism therapy! It too was probably more effective than no therapy at all. However, scientists at the time concluded that any effect of Mesmer’s therapy was probably due to the power of suggestion, thereby discrediting mesmerism. In contrast to this, the American Psychological Association committee set up to look at the empirical validation of treatments ‘recently startled many psychologists by proclaiming EMDR as “probably efficacious for civilian PTSD”’ (McNally, 1999a, p.235).
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