Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing helps with PTSD symptoms in two people with learning disabilities

person looking sad

The authors of this study set out to look at whether trauma treatment had been successfully used with people with learning disabilities and substantially limited verbal capacities. They found no case studies in the literature. The article describes and assesses the applicability of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) a trauma therapy based on the idea that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts.

The authors worked with this therapy with two clients with moderate learning disabilities, serious behavioural problems, and histories of negative life events.

They applied the 8 phase protocol for EDMR which includes taking a client history, treatment planning, assessment of the target, desensitisation & reprogramming and re-evaluation.

They found that in both the cases, post traumatic stress disorder -like symptoms decreased. This was achieved in 6 sessions for the first person and 5 for the second.

These gains were reported to have been maintained in follow ups in 32 and 10 months.

The authors conclude from this very small scale case study that EMDR may be “an applicable psychological trauma treatment for persons with limited verbal capacities.”

Obviously as this is only case study evidence at this stage, the findings need to be treated with some caution and the authors themselves recommend further and rigorous research in to the therapy.

Do persons with intellectual disability and limited verbal capacities respond to trauma treatment? Mevissen L et al., in Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 36, 4 , 278-283

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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