EMDR, obsessive compulsive disorder, musicophila and synchronization

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Research on EMDR is still in its infancy,and I can`t seem to stop obsessing about why it works. Normally I am not an obsessive person, in fact I`ve always found it fascinating that somebody can really feel the need to do something again and again without stopping. I tried to find information on the internet on controlled studies on EMDR and OCD, but unfortunately there is little research on it, so no conclusion can be drawn yet. This post is just me thinking loud, so what I write might not be true at all. 

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What I found when I did my internet search about EMDR and OCD can be summarized here:

This article provides an overview of the current empirical evidence on the application of EMDR for the anxiety disorders spectrum other than posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Reviewing the existing literature, it is disappointing to fi nd that 20 years after its introduction, support for the effi cacy of EMDR for other conditions than PTSD is still scarce. Randomized outcome research is limited to panic disorder with agoraphobia and spider phobia. The results suggest that EMDR is generally more effective than no-treatment control conditions or nonspecifi c interventions but less effective than existing evidence-based (i.e., exposure-based) interventions. However, since these studies were based on incomplete protocols and limited treatment courses, questions about the relative effi cacy of EMDR for the treatment of anxiety disorders remain largely unanswered.Ja

As research shows that clients with OCD respond relatively well to cognitive-behavioral interventions (i.e., exposure and response prevention and cognitive therapy) EMDR will generally not play an important role in the treatment of OCD. However, there might be exceptions. For example, there is evidence to suggest that stressful events precipitate this disorder and that in some cases a causal link between severe trauma and the onset of OCD can be identified (see De Silva & Marks, 1999). Therefore, it could be argued that if the condition has a direct and known onset and the client’s memory of that event is still emotionally charged, it may be helpful to desensitize the memory and to evaluate its effect on the client’s symptomatology. However, case reports on the treatment of OCD with EMDR are sparse, and the effects reported in the literature show that EMDR has limited potential to contribute to the treatment of this condition (Bae, Kim, & Ahn, 2006; Corrigan & Jennett, 2004).


What is it that makes EMDR effective? Some theories point to the fact that using our working memory (when we follow movements of the finger back and forth) at the same time as we think about traumatic material, gives less Space to the unpleasant images, thereby reducing their vividness. Some theories have tried to explain it by looking at how the two hemispheres interact.

Many people in the field of biofeedback or neurofeedback believe the treatment effect comes from hemispheric synchrony, where activity and frequency of both brain hemispheres is in a close relationship.

What I have thought about, is if other movements have the same effect as watching fingers go back and forth. For example: Why is it that the ocean calms us? Why can we sometimes be transfixed when we watch something that repeats itself? If we go back to the fact that Our brain needs to relax and tune out now and then, could it be that everything that pulses in a steady rhythm, calms the brain? Babies in the cradle get sleepy when they are rocked back and forth, it soothes them. If we would watch birds flying around and around, this might soothe us too. For some people repetition is necessary: Like the OCD-patient who must wash themselves again and again. Could it be that their nervous system has a “loop” that they can`t get out of?  Might tradition come from this same need? We have to repeat certain things to soothe our brains? What about autism, where a lot of repetition is the norm?

Recently I have also started to wonder if music might be the “optimal EMDR”. There is as far as I know, little research on EMDR combined with music in therapy, but I found a video on youtube with “Musical EMDR therapy”. Furthermore, I discovered an article discussing if EMDR has its effect by synchronization, that is, letting the brain find peace and calm by creating a state where the brain cells “sing in tune”. Might this be why music is so important to us? Does it realign a malfunctioning nervous system?

This is an excerpt from one article I found:

The common denominator of EMDR is to reach some balance in the attentive feeling of self, which may be defined as harmonious flow of sensory, cognitive, emotional, and physical associations (Servan-Schreiber, 2003). The best results in EMDR are obtained in the intermediate state in which attention and emotion work fluently and in harmony. 

So, might music and EMDR have something in common?
Right now I`m reading musicophila by Oliver Sacks. He presents case study after case study where neural damage has led to the sudden occurrence of amazing musical abilities. Might this phenomena be the brains way of synchronizing and thereby healing itself? Brain damage was earlier believed to be treatment-resistant, but today we have come further in unravelling the mystery of our minds and brain, and we use that knowledge to find treatment methods that might help, also for people with brain damage. My specialist thesis, was that EMDR can actually change the brain and make it “smarter”. I only did one case study, and can`t wait until I can do more research on this. It would be very interesting to see if a combination of EMDR and music, could help more people, also people with serious condition where normal treatment doesn`t work. Because:

We are born to feel balanced and find solutions. Resources within us can automatically help us do these things. Sometimes, we need help to activate these inner processes to resolve personal problems, to stop anxiety, or to meet a great personal challenge.

As a therapist, I have seen people make wonderful changes in their lives and personalities by doing mental exercises that restore, evoke and orchestrate these inner resources. I am impressed with the power of sound to make these exercises more effective.

I will leave my theorizing for now. In the meantime, feel free to dive into more articles about EMDR, synchronization and Music. Maybe some of you might come of with new theories and ideas that science needs to help people with OCD, brain damage or other neurological problems.


EMDR and bilateral music 

Why does Music Therapy help in Autism?

EMDR and neuropsychological test results: A case study


2 thoughts on “EMDR, obsessive compulsive disorder, musicophila and synchronization

    Aslaug said:
    August 2, 2015 at 18:33

    I don’t think it’s necessary to know about trauma to heal, it’s all about making new patterns in the brain, and that can be done without digging through the past. That said, knowing what the root cause is can help to identify triggers and understanding the “why” of the anxiety defense mechanism. And I do believe repetitive behaviour – be it autism or OCD or other compulsive behaviours – are a way to calm the brain. The HPA-axis (the body’s stress response) is often not functioning correctly in people with these diagnoses. You actually see it in all animals, when stress levels rise too high they start having repetitive behaviours (and our nervous systems aren’t all that different, the laws of learning are universal). But the worst part is, it’s possible to inherit this response. Mothers who experience a lot of stress during pregnancy change the wiring of their offspring’s stress-system (and the father plays a role too). Epigenetic changes like these are (thankfully!) changeable, but to do that the body needs to “snap out of” the stress and calm down enough to readjust. This can be hard to do alone (and especially if it’s hardwired into the brain from conception and up-till-now), because it’s easier to adapt to the stress and find ways to manage it with behaviour changes, which might add even more stress, and it becomes a vicious circle.

    What I find really interesting, is how looking someone in the eyes can be very hard for autistic people. For animals (and humans are one), staring somebody else in the eye is very stressful. Is this a way of adapting to their already high stress-levels? Avoiding more stressful stimuli? Depressed people do it too, they look down, and in doing so they tune out a lot of the world(stimuli). Maybe because the brain, at that point, can’t handle it. It’s too stressed-out.

    The brain is amazing at adapting to the environment, but sometimes what we’re taught by the environment turns into destructive defensive mechanisms that down the line makes life harder (even if they might have been helpful at some point).

    EMDR: Finding me after she died « Mirrorgirl said:
    September 29, 2016 at 21:09

    […] over it when something forced me to see what was around me. Tomorrow, I am having my second EMDR session. EMDR is a treatment method that uses eye movements to heal trauma. Even if death is not […]

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