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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy as a Feasible and Potential Effective Treatment for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and a History of Adverse Events

Abstract

The study investigated whether EMDR is a feasible therapy for adults with ASD and a history of adverse events, and whether it is associated with reductions in symptoms of PTSD, psychological distress and autism. Participants received 6 to 8 weeks treatment as usual (TAU), followed by a maximum of 8 sessions EMDR added to TAU, and a follow-up of 6–8 weeks with TAU only. Results showed a significant reduction of symptoms of post-traumatic stress (IES-R: d = 1.16), psychological distress (BSI: d = 0.93) and autistic features (SRS-A: d = 0.39). Positive results were maintained at follow-up. The results suggest EMDR therapy to be a feasible and potentially effective treatment for individuals with ASD who suffer from the consequences of exposure to distressing events.

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(Reproduced with permission from CONSORT 2010 flow diagram for study trial)

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Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge the contributions by the therapists in this study: Titia Arwerth, Barbara Kemps, Erik Kuiper, Noortje van Vliet, Jedidja Weegenaar (Dimence Institute of Mental Health); Nienke Boonstra (Altrecht Institute of Mental Health); Petra Spuijbroek (Riverduinen Institute of Mental Health); Uschi Koster; Erica Pijpers (both private practices in specialized mental health). We thank Arjan van Wijk (Department of Behavioral Sciences, Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA), University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam) for his statistical analysis advice.

Author Contributions

Ella Lobregt-van Buuren conceived of the study, coordinated the study, performed the measurements and the statistical analysis, interpreted the data and drafted the manuscript; Bram Sizoo participated in the design, statistical analysis, interpretation of the data and helped to draft the manuscript; Liesbeth Mevissen participated in the design, trained and supervised the EMDR-therapists and helped to draft the manuscript; Ad de Jongh participated in the design, interpreted the data and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

The science committee of the Vereniging EMDR Nederland (VEN) and the Dokter Wittenbergstichting supported this study for €6000.

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Correspondence to Ella Lobregt-van Buuren.

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Conflict of interest

Ad de Jongh receives income from published books on EMDR therapy and for the training of postdoctoral professionals in this method. The other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Lobregt-van Buuren, E., Sizoo, B., Mevissen, L. et al. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy as a Feasible and Potential Effective Treatment for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and a History of Adverse Events. J Autism Dev Disord 49, 151–164 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3687-6

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Keywords

  • EMDR
  • Trauma
  • PTSD
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • ASD
  • Diagnostic overshadowing