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Is the accidental discovery of VSDT the new solution to trauma?


What is it and how does it work?

VSDT, or Visual Schema Displacement Therapy, is a potential treatment for stress and anxiety caused by trauma, in which unpleasant memories and clusters of unpleasant memories can be worked on simultaneously.

The method was discovered by Nik and Eva Speakman, a British television couple. Both have gained experience in psychology since 1992 by studying well-known psychologists such as Pavlov, Watson, Piaget, Bandura, etc. In addition to their TV show, they work as life coaches.

VSDT falls under eye movement therapy. During the treatment, eye movements made by the client are used. The treatment looks like this: a certified practitioner stands opposite the client, at a distance of about 1.25 metres, and asks the client to think of a pleasant event. The event should evoke the opposite feeling of the trauma that has been experienced. Then, with his hand in the air, the practitioner makes a circle about 1.5 metres in diameter in the direction of the clock. This can be done with or without a watch in the hand. The client indicates at which point of the circle he feels happiest, thinking of the pleasant event. The client then also indicates how much of a mark he gives to this on a scale of 0 to 10. Zero is equal to not happy and ten to most happy. A word can also be linked to this memory.

The same is repeated for the traumatic event. The client may indicate the most important point and assign a mark to it. In this case, zero is not bad and ten is as bad as it gets. Then the therapist explains what he is going to do and starts working. The therapist will move his fingers rapidly from the point of trauma to the point of pleasure and will say "Whoosh! Immediately after this, the client has to blink twice, close his eyes and take two breaths. If desired, the chosen word can then be said. This is repeated a number of times, until the client gives the number 0 when he is reminded of the trauma.

The first results of research

A study published in June this year in the Journal of Behaviour Therapy and experimental Psychiatry showed that the vividness of the traumatic event decreased strikingly after the application of the VSDT treatment. The emotional distress felt at the memory also decreased. The effects of the therapy were noticeable as early as 6-8 days after its application.

Research has also been conducted in the Netherlands into the effects of this form of therapy. This research was conducted by Gz-psychologist Ad de Jongh and clinical psychologist-psychotherapist Suzy Mathijssen. They conducted two studies which indeed show that VSDT has a striking result, namely: the SUD score (distress of the memory) was strikingly lower after VSDT therapy than with the already well-known EMDR therapy. With regard to the vividness of the memory there was no difference between the VSDT or EMDR therapy.

Coach and psychotherapist Carien Karsten has also started working with it. She heard about the technique during an EMDR congress and put it to the test.

The discovery and theory

The discovery of VSDT happened by chance during a session of the Speakmans with a client. They noticed that the client always moved her eyes to one spot when she thought about her trauma and looked in another direction when she talked about her children.
It seems that because of this, people store happy thoughts and traumas in a different place in their memory. They started playing with this idea; what if we could move the trauma? Would the negative emotion and re-experience no longer be experienced as intense and unpleasant? This explains why the therapist makes the rapid movement from the 'unpleasant' to the 'pleasant' place in the circle during the treatment.

According to Suzy Matthijssen, the effectiveness of the treatment can be explained on the basis of various theories, she told Leonieke Kranenburg and Suzanne van Veen in an interview for EMDR magazine 18. We know that this works well in reducing the emotionality of bad memories. Counter-conditioning could also play a role, because we link something negative to something positive. It could also be a massive working memory load. Finally, the surprise effect could also play a role."

Current deployment worldwide & forecast for the future

At present, the technique is only used incidentally by the English couple. Research into the long-term effects will have to follow. Carien Karsten uses the method a lot. It is mainly used for the treatment of fears, phobias and traumas. Among other things, she uses the method to help musicians get rid of their stage fright.
Referring to the study by Suzy Mathijssen and Ad de Jongh, she says about the use of the method in the future: "This is the first scientific study. It was done on healthy individuals and it is necessary to repeat the study on patient groups."

Suzy Matthijssen indicates that she prefers that there have already been a number of RCTs that have demonstrated the effectiveness of the treatment method. However, there will be people who will start using the treatment method now, which is not very helpful. It is important that practitioners provide evidence-based treatment and always remain responsible not to expose patients to all sorts of things.

Carien Karsten objects: 'I just notice that it works'. Despite the fact that the theory has not yet been scientifically proven, this does not stop her from applying it. She herself compares it to Freud's situation: would he have stopped his research and treatment of clients if the client himself indicated that the treatment does work, but science has not yet proven this effect?

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