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  • Writer's picturetraceymbrittain

Can EMDR therapy cure long covid where other treatments have failed

Updated: 3 days ago


photo of therapist performing EMDR on a client with long COVID

Introduction

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), an evidence-based psychotherapy approach, has been increasingly recognised for its effectiveness in treating various psychological disorders. Predominantly used for trauma-related conditions, EMDR therapy utilises an eight- phase treatment protocol that includes eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. These processes assist individuals in reprocessing disturbing memories, changing their emotional response, and promoting adaptive coping mechanisms.


The global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has given rise to a new medical condition known as Long COVID. Marked by persistent symptoms that extend beyond the initial recovery period from the virus, Long COVID has been found to significantly impact patients' physical and mental well-being. Patients often report fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, anxiety, and depression among their ongoing symptoms.


Given the complexity of Long COVID and its multifaceted impact on patients' lives, there is a dire need for effective treatment approaches that can address both the physical and psychological repercussions of the condition. EMDR therapy has shown promise in managing psychological distress associated with traumatic experiences and chronic illnesses. Thus, it warrants exploration as a potential therapeutic approach to alleviate the mental health challenges posed by Long COVID.


In this article, we explore the potential of EMDR therapy in treating Long COVID where other treatments may have failed. We also discuss how Tracey Brittain, a specialist in EMDR therapy with expertise in working with children and adolescents as well as adults, offers hope to those battling this debilitating condition.

Understanding Long COVID

photo Clinician examining Long COVID results

Long COVID, also known as post-COVID syndrome, is a condition where individuals continue to experience health problems after recovering from the main phase of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The exact criteria for diagnosing Long COVID are still being developed, but generally, it refers to symptoms that last for more than 12 weeks after the initial infection and cannot be explained by another condition.


People with Long COVID may have a combination of physical and mental symptoms. Some common physical symptoms include:

  • Persistent fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Joint pain

  • Neurological symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and cognitive dysfunction ('brain fog') Equally important are the mental symptoms that many individuals with Long COVID experience. These can include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Sleep disturbances


These long-lasting symptoms can greatly affect a person's daily life and well-being. It is clear that both physical and mental health play a role in Long COVID. Because of this connection, treatments typically used for trauma and stress-related conditions are now being explored for Long COVID patients.

Long COVID is a complex condition with various factors at play. The combination of physical and psychological symptoms suggests that there is more to this condition than just the initial viral infection. Understanding this complexity is crucial in providing appropriate care and support for those affected by Long COVID.


It is important for healthcare professionals to acknowledge the unique difficulties faced by these patients. For those dealing with mental distress related to Long COVID, seeking help from specialists who have knowledge in both the physical and emotional aspects may be beneficial. Tracey Brittain, an expert in EMDR therapy, is one such professional offering help to overcome trauma associated with persistent post-COVID symptoms. EMDR therapy has shown promising results in treating trauma-related conditions and could potentially provide relief for individuals with Long COVID".

The Potential of EMDR Therapy in Treating Psychological Distress Associated with Long COVID

Photo of client with Long COVID after EMDR session

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has gained attention for its potential to address psychological distress, especially symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Among those suffering from Long COVID, these psychological symptoms are common due to the ongoing nature of the condition and its impact on daily life.


EMDR therapy is a treatment method that was first created to help individuals with PTSD. Its main concept is that by working through and understanding traumatic memories, we can lower our psychological burden. Given the immense human and personal loss, combined with the fear caused by COVID-19, including the uncertainty of one's own mortality, EMDR therapy can be an effective approach for addressing these experiences.


Link Between Long COVID Symptoms and the Ongoing Psychological Distress

Long COVID, also known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), refers to a condition where individuals experience persistent symptoms for weeks or even months after recovering from the initial COVID-19 infection. These symptoms can vary widely and may include fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, muscle pain, and depression.

Recent studies have shed light on the link between long COVID symptoms and the ongoing psychological distress that these symptoms cause. Here are some key findings:

  1. Impact on Mental Health: Individuals with long COVID often report high levels of anxiety, depression, and stress due to their persistent symptoms. This can significantly impact their overall quality of life and ability to function daily.

  2. Uncertainty and Fear: The unpredictable nature of long COVID symptoms can create feelings of uncertainty and fear in individuals. Not knowing when or if their symptoms will improve can lead to heightened anxiety and emotional distress.

  3. Social Isolation: Many people with long COVID find it challenging to participate in social activities or maintain relationships due to their physical limitations. This social isolation can contribute to feelings of loneliness and further worsen their mental well- being.

  4. Stigma and Misunderstanding: Some individuals with long COVID may face stigma or disbelief from others who do not understand the condition or its prolonged effects. This lack of support can add to their psychological burden.

By addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of this condition, we can better support those affected and improve their overall well-being.

Patients with Long COVID often experience a range of symptoms including extreme fatigue, cognitive impairments ('brain fog'), and dysautonomia and permanent coughs. These long- lasting health challenges themselves have a significant effect on mental well-being:

  • Anxiety may arise from constant health concerns and uncertainty about recovery.

  • Depression could be a response to ongoing impairment and loss of previous lifestyle or functioning.

  • PTSD might be triggered by initial acute illness experiences or ongoing medical trauma.


Persistent coughs are common and can sometimes be linked to patients whom had a predisposition to trauma before the COVID virus infected them. By addressing the original trauma you can often see the cough stress left by COVID disappear.


Given the close connection between physical and psychological symptoms, innovative therapies like EMDR offer hope for those who haven't found relief through traditional treatments.


photo of someone doing research on EMDR and how it resolves long COVID

Let's imagine a study designed to examine how effective EMDR therapy is in reducing anxiety symptoms among Long COVID patients.


Participants who meet the specific diagnostic criteria for Long COVID are split into two groups: one receiving standard anxiety treatment and another undergoing EMDR therapy.




Over a period of eight to twelve sessions:

  • Methodology: Participants' anxiety levels are assessed using standardised psychological tests at the beginning, middle, and end of treatment, as well as during follow-up.

  • Results: The group receiving EMDR therapy shows significant reductions in anxiety scores compared to the control group. Additionally, improvements in sleep quality and overall well-being are reported.

These hypothetical findings suggest that EMDR therapy could be a promising intervention for reducing anxiety in patients with Long COVID. So lets apply that principle to a live working example.


Let's consider the case of Alex*, who contracted COVID-19 in early 2020. After recovering from the initial infection, Alex struggled with persistent symptoms such as shortness of breath and chronic fatigue. Later diagnosed with Long COVID, Alex also developed severe depression due to the ongoing health issues and disruption to daily life.


*Name changed for privacy.


Before Treatment: Alex felt hopeless after several months without improvement from traditional depression treatments. He also had a persistent cough.

During Treatment: Alex began EMDR therapy with Tracey Brittain, an expert in EMDR and Trauma.

  1. Sessions focused on addressing emotions connected to the onset of illness and ongoing difficulties with daily activities.

  2. Alex underwent EMDR and previous trauma collapsed the COVID traumas.


After EMDR Treatment: After a single session:

  • Alex reported significant improvements in depressive symptoms.

  • There was a noticeable increase in participation in social activities.

  • Alex expressed feeling more capable of dealing with the uncertainties associated with Long COVID.

  • His persistent cough disappeared completely.


This case illustrates how personalised use of EMDR can potentially enhance mental health outcomes for individuals dealing with chronic illnesses like Long COVID. Integrating this therapy into treatment plans may provide renewed hope for improving quality of life during complex medical challenges.


The Role of EMDR in Facilitating Coping and Resilience in Individuals with Chronic Illnesses

Inventor of EMDR therapy Shapiro

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is often used for treating trauma. However, it also has the potential to help individuals with chronic illnesses like Long COVID by improving their ability to cope and bounce back from challenges.


This unique therapy focuses on changing the way our brain processes traumatic memories, which can continue to cause emotional pain.


Here's how EMDR helps:

  1. Reducing the impact of distressing memories: EMDR uses a special technique called bilateral stimulation to lessen the emotional intensity of painful memories. This can greatly reduce the ongoing psychological distress that Long COVID patients may be experiencing.

  2. Changing negative beliefs: EMDR guides individuals to identify and reevaluate unhelpful beliefs they have about their illness. By replacing these negative thoughts with more positive and realistic ones, patients can develop healthier ways of coping.

EMDR therapy suggests that every person has an innate ability to heal and grow. However, this natural resilience can sometimes be blocked by traumatic events or ongoing stressors like a chronic illness.


By going through specific stages of therapy, EMDR aims to unlock this inner healing power and help individuals better manage their current circumstances.


As a result, they may experience:

  • Better control over their emotions

  • Increased ability to handle stress A study conducted by Hase et al. (2008) showed that adults who underwent EMDR therapy for trauma-related disorders experienced a significant increase in resilience.


By drawing insights from this research, it's possible to speculate that Long COVID patients receiving EMDR therapy might also see similar improvements in their ability to bounce back. This newfound strength could have a positive impact on their overall well-being and their ability to cope with their condition.

Considering the potential benefits, it's important to include psychological support, such as EMDR therapy, as part of the comprehensive care for Long COVID patients. By addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of their illness, healthcare providers can better support their patients' overall recovery journey.


Integrating EMDR Therapy with Comprehensive Treatment Approaches for Holistic Long COVID Care

Long COVID presents various challenges, especially with its wide range of symptoms and how they affect a person's life. Because of this, it's important to use a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. While EMDR therapy can be helpful in managing psychological distress, it may not be enough to address all aspects of this complex condition. That's why it's crucial to combine EMDR with other comprehensive treatment approaches for holistic Long COVID care.

Healthcare professionals must understand that each patient's situation is different and requires personalised care plans. This means using a combination of different therapies based on their specific physical and psychological needs. Some potential treatments that can work well with EMDR therapy include:

  • Physical Rehabilitation: This has proven beneficial in restoring physical function and reducing fatigue among Long COVID patients. It often includes a combination of aerobics, strength training, and flexibility exercises.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help patients manage the cognitive difficulties associated with Long COVID by challenging unhelpful thought patterns and developing more adaptive responses.

  • Nutritional Counseling: Given the potential impact of Long COVID on appetite and nutritional status, dietary advice can play a critical role in managing symptoms and promoting recovery.

  • Occupational Therapy: For those experiencing difficulties in carrying out daily activities due to debilitating symptoms, occupational therapy can provide strategies to regain independence. "By integrating EMDR with these approaches, we are not merely addressing individual symptoms but helping patients rebuild their lives after Long COVID."

Using these treatments alongside EMDR therapy can lead to a more comprehensive care plan. It allows healthcare providers to address both the mental health issues caused by trauma and the physical health issues arising from Long COVID.


The key is to understand that recovering from Long COVID involves multiple aspects. Treatment strategies should be as varied and adaptable as the people they are meant for. By taking a comprehensive approach, we can make sure that every aspect of the patient's well-being is taken care of. Our goal is not only to combat Long COVID but also to help those affected return to their normal lives. This shows the importance of integrating EMDR therapy with comprehensive treatment approaches in providing holistic care for Long COVID patients.

Current Limitations and Future Directions in Using EMDR as a Treatment for Long COVID

Despite the potential of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in managing long COVID symptoms, several challenges restrict its widespread application. One such limitation arises from the novelty of long COVID as a medical condition, which presents difficulties in conducting comprehensive research on the efficacy of EMDR therapy for this specific context.


A primary concern is the lack of standardised diagnostic criteria for long COVID. This impediment makes it challenging to identify suitable study participants. In addition, the diverse symptom range and varying severity levels among long COVID patients complicates the assessment of EMDR effectiveness.


Financial constraints and limited resources also pose significant hurdles. Conducting rigorous clinical trials requires substantial funding and access to specialised expertise, which may not always be readily available.


Lastly, ethical considerations related to experimental treatments for a debilitating illness like long COVID can limit research opportunities. Balancing patient safety with the need for innovative therapeutic strategies is a complex task that could slow down progress in this area.


Despite these challenges, there exist promising paths that could enhance the application of EMDR in long COVID rehabilitation programs. Key areas for future investigation include:

  1. Development of tailored EMDR protocols: Designing specialised EMDR procedures that cater to the unique needs and symptom profiles of long COVID patients could increase treatment effectiveness.

  2. Integration with digital health technologies: Leveraging telehealth platforms or mobile apps to deliver EMDR therapy could expand access to care, particularly for home-bound patients or those residing in remote areas.

  3. Long-term follow-up studies: Investigating the sustained impact of EMDR on symptom relief and quality of life could provide valuable insights into its role in chronic disease management.


Although these are just prospective directions, they offer an exciting glimpse into what lies ahead in harnessing EMDR's potential for treating long COVID.


The journey may be challenging, yet the potential benefits for patients make it a worthwhile endeavor.


Conclusion

Individuals dealing with the many challenges of Long COVID may find comfort in the promising options provided by EMDR therapy. As a specialised form of psychotherapy, EMDR has shown potential in reducing psychological distress, which often goes hand in hand with the physical symptoms of this condition. By focusing on its ability to address anxiety and depression associated with Long COVID, patients should consider trying this treatment when traditional methods haven't worked.

Tracey Brittain, an expert in EMDR therapy, is a prime example of someone who is dedicated to helping individuals recover from Long COVID. Her focus on this specific treatment shows her commitment to finding better ways to help those with post-viral syndromes. Tracey is currently performing research for her doctorate on EMDR.


Given how closely connected physical and mental health are, EMDR therapy is an appealing choice for patients looking for comprehensive care. As research continues to grow, we will learn more about how effective it is and how it can be incorporated into treatment plans for those dealing with the long-term effects of COVID-19.

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