Melanie Brown (aka Mel B) announced over the weekend that she plans to check into a rehabilitation center to help manage issues with alcohol and sex.
“The past six months have been incredibly difficult for me,” she told U.K. tabloid The Sun. She explained that working on her upcoming book, Brutally Honest, has meant reliving several challenging experiences in her life.
She continued, “Sometimes it is too hard to cope with all the emotions I feel. But the problem has never been about sex or alcohol—it is underneath all that."
"I am fully aware I have been at a crisis point. No one knows myself better than I do—but I am dealing with it.”
Brown also revealed that she was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and started a course of psychotherapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
EMDR "in a nutshell works on the memory to deal with some of the very painful and traumatic situations I have been through,” she further explained in her statement to The Sun. “I don’t want to jinx it, but so far it’s really helping me. I am fully aware I am at a crisis point.” Brown also said she plans to go into a “proper therapy program” in the next few weeks. “I am still struggling,” she said. “But if I can shine a light on the issue of pain, PTSD and the things men and women do to mask it, I will do.”
After someone goes through a trauma, people with PTSD usually have trouble making sense of what they went through, the National Center for PTSD explains. The thinking is that EMDR can help them process the trauma, which then can allow for them to heal.
As the American Psychological Association (APA) explains, EMDR therapy occurs in eight phases consisting of taking the client's history, preparing the client, identifying their specific traumas, and processing the trauma. During the processing phases, the client is encouraged to pay attention to a back and forth movement, sound, or taps while thinking of the traumatic event they went through, Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., the creator of EMDR therapy, tells SELF.
With the therapist's help, the patient will keep doing this until their memory of the event shifts and becomes less stressful to them, Shapiro says. “Instead of the trauma being held in memory in frozen form, unable to change, it shifts to reality which is that the trauma is in the past and the person is now safe,” she explains. “The healing is able to take place.” The idea is that the external stimuli make the trauma less vivid, allowing them to becoming desensitized to it.
But there is some disagreement about how EMDR works and whether the back and forth movement that distinguishes it from regular exposure therapy actually adds anything.
“The efficacy of EMDR for PTSD remains an extremely controversial subject among researchers,” Simon Rego, Psy.D., chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells SELF.
So far, research has also been mixed. For instance, a Cochrane Review of 70 studies featuring 4,761 people published in 2013 found that EMDR was no more helpful for people with PTSD than those who underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). However, the majority of the studies they found weren't great quality. These findings suggest that, yes, EMDR may be helpful, but not any more so than more traditional types of treatment. But we won't know for sure until more high-quality studies are conducted.
Some of the controversy stems from the question of why EMDR may be effective, Rego says, "with critics noting that it is similar to any exposure therapy and that the eye movements may be an unnecessary addition.”
Jed Magen, D.O., associate professor and chair in the department of psychiatry at Michigan State University, agrees. “The neurobiological mechanism is just unclear," he tells SELF. "When you think about distressing memories, what you might just be doing is desensitizing yourself. The finger waving may be irrelevant.”
EMDR is just one of many treatment options for people who have experienced trauma.
“If EMDR was the only therapy that we had to address trauma and symptoms of PTSD, people wouldn’t have a problem recommending it,” David J. Austern, Psy.D., clinical instructor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. “It’s just that we have other therapies that work as well, if not better, and we can understand why they work.” Those other options generally include specialized forms of psychotherapy, such as CBT, exposure therapy, and cognitive processing therapy.
That said, "EMDR is usually done in the context of an ongoing therapeutic relationship," Nancy Snyder, Ed.D., an associate teaching professor of psychology at Northeastern University, tells SELF. "Psychotherapists trained in EMDR have training in other techniques as well."
So, if you're curious about EMDR, it may be worth pursuing more traditional forms of therapy first (if you haven't already) and going from there. Or, if you do end up going straight to EMDR, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be missing out on the benefits of other types of therapy.
After all, going to any therapist should include a thorough discussion of the best treatment plan for you—whether or not that includes EMDR. What matters is that you find a treatment plan that you feel comfortable with.