Eye movements against post-traumatic stress

Eye movements against post-traumatic stress

The EMDR technique is now considered by the Haute Autorité de santé as a “treatment of choice” in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

EMDR. Four letters for a curious therapy, little known to the general public and sometimes maligned. EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), invented in 1987 by the American Francine Shapiro, has nothing magical. It is even now considered by the High Authority of Health as a “treatment of choice” in the state of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), except in the case of psychotic pathology.

“In someone with post-traumatic stress, the memory hurts as much as the event itself “

Stephanie Khalfa

“Post-traumatic stress is based on the alteration of the brain mechanism of fear treatment,” explains Stéphanie Khalfa, CNRS researcher at the Institut des neurosciences de la Timone (Marseille). Disturbed, victims ‘ sleep would be shorter and essentially composed of deep sleep, at the expense of REM sleep needed to properly process memories. “Normally, when you remember a difficult episode in your life, you know that moment was painful but no longer feel the associated emotion. In someone in a state of post-traumatic stress, the memory hurts as much as the event itself.»

Post-traumatic stress would alter the activity of two brain structures: the ventro-median prefrontal cortex, responsible for managing the response to fear, would become less active while the amygdala, responsible for the signal of fear, would become overactive. Lack of REM sleep prevents correcting these malfunctions.

This is where EMDR comes in: by reproducing the eye movements naturally present during REM sleep phases, it would mobilize the right brain structures to store traumatic memories” cleanly”.

Collaboration with the army

Stéphanie Khalfa has mounted, in collaboration with the army, a study in response to the call launched by the boss of the CNRS, Alain Fuchs, after the attacks of November 13. The aim is to define predictive factors for the evolution of patients with post-traumatic stress and treated with EMDR. Sixty soldiers will participate: all have experienced violent war scenes in Mali or Afghanistan, but only half of them have developed post-traumatic stress. “Before and after an EMDR treatment protocol, we expose them to war scenes through a virtual reality headset and then scan their brain activity,” explains Stéphanie Khalfa. This activity is not the same if they are well or still suffering from PTSD.”Sleep recordings are also made, and the results obtained from 8 soldiers already treated show that it, very disorganized before the sessions, normalizes.

“Some need 8 sessions of EMDR, but for others only 1 is enough, slips the researcher. We would like to understand why.”First results expected by the end of 2017.

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