Is EMDR Effective for Treating ADHD? Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy (EMDR)
is a type of psychotherapy that has been widely acknowledged for its high efficacy rate in treating PTSD patients. Discovered by Dr Francine Shapiro, EMDR has proven to be effective for a range of patient disorders, including depression
, anxiety, eating disorders
, addiction and other illnesses. In this particular article, we are going to analyze the efficacy rate of EMDR in treating those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to find out whether this technique could potentially be utilized in reducing patient symptoms.
ADHD: A Review
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, usually first diagnosed in children and generally lasts into early adulthood. The disorder is characterized by impulsive behaviors and an inability to concentrate - however, other ADHD symptoms include:
- Disorganization and problems prioritizing tasks
- Poor time management skills
- Frequent mood swings
- Hot temper
- Problems following through and completing tasks
These are just a few of the symptoms a patient with ADHD disorder may encounter – however, the disorder may manifest itself in different ways. There are three types of ADHD disorder:
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: a person with this type of ADHD may display more symptoms associated with hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: a patient may be easily distracted or forget things in their daily routines. They may also have difficulty paying attention and following conversations.
- Combined Presentation: symptoms of the above two types are equally present.
Can ADHD Stem From Trauma?
Many studies show genetics to be an integral part of developing ADHD, as the cause of the condition is unknown. However, scientists have identified a few common risk factors of those who go on to be diagnosed with ADHD. These include:
- Premature delivery
- Brain injury
- Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
- Environmental factors (for example, exposure to lead)
- Low birth weight
that have investigated the links between ADHD and trauma have uncovered substantial findings. “The exposure to stressful life events, and—more specifically—Childhood Trauma, has been shown to predict ADHD onset as well as persistence of the disorder into adulthood (Biederman et al. 1995
; Friedrichs et al. 2012
; Sugaya et al. 2012
).” The condition seems to present itself differently in children who have experienced trauma in comparison to those who have not – ADHD symptoms seem to be more severe for adults who have gone through difficult experiences also. Besides Childhood Trauma, recent stressful events, such as conflicts at work, divorce, and monetary problems, are also associated with levels of ADHD severity (Able et al. 2007; Biederman and Faraone 2006; Sobanski et al. 2007).
In a study investigating associations between Lifetime Life Events and ADHD symptoms
, researchers concluded Childhood Trauma could potentially affect symptoms through memory processes and may be a risk for the development and the persistence of ADHD. Their studies also suggested factors, such as stress, could increase the severity of ADHD during adulthood.
Using EMDR to Treat ADHD
When assessing the possibility of using EMDR to treat ADHD patients, the results could be somewhat promising. Shapiro states many patients with ADHD possess ‘small t traumas’ meaning they may experience issues with self-esteem, anxiety and negative mood. In many cases, these traits limit the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
However, small ‘t’ traumas could be addressed through adapting the EMDR framework to suit ADHD patient needs – this included adding external forms of bilateral stimulation such as tools for drawing or video games. By doing so, patient anxiety was significantly reduced as they could reprocess little ‘t’ traumas easier and their ability to follow instruction increased.
The researchers found that EMDR had the ability to reduce patient symptoms successfully and overall lessen the negative effects of small ‘t’ traumas. This allowed patients to utilize external resources for attention, compliance and concentration. In their day-to-day lives, the patients were able to adapt better to their daily environments. There were all overall improvements in emotional regulation, frustration management, problem solving, and responsiveness to tasks.
Precautions When Using EMDR for ADHD
The studies show a promising efficacy rate for EMDR therapy and ADHD – however, the modifications of the therapy must be taken into consideration. The clinicians were able to utilize a safe place with video games and drawing, as well as other treatment modalities. Secondly, adjunct therapies were also conducted during this study – patients also received social skills group training, parent training and CBT. These aspects will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the efficacy of EMDR therapy.
Another aspect to consider is the sample size - the study would have also benefited from a larger randomized sample – to better understand the effects of EMDR on a wider ADHD patient group. However, when comparing EMDR to CBT therapy for ADHD patients, EMDR seemed to be responded to more successfully.
If you are interested in knowing more about EMDR therapy
, learn more with our range of EMDR therapy
online resources. For more information about our therapy courses, do not hesitate to contact our helpful team
or browse our online courses.
EMDR Online Courses EMDR Step-by-Step PLUS: Your Start to Finish Guide to Safe and Successful EMDR Therapy The Integrated Trauma Therapist: Incorporating IFS with EMDR, SP, CPT, AEDP, DBT, and Psychedelic Medicines for Treating Complex Trauma and PTSD