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The psychophysiological response during post-traumatic stress disorder treatment with modular motion-assisted memory desensitisation and reconsolidation (3MDR)

van Deursen, Robert, Jones, Kate, Kitchiner, Neil, Hannigan, Ben, Barawi, Kali and Bisson, Jonathan I. 2021. The psychophysiological response during post-traumatic stress disorder treatment with modular motion-assisted memory desensitisation and reconsolidation (3MDR). European Journal of Psychotraumatology 12 (1) , 1929027. 10.1080/20008198.2021.1929027

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Background: Psychophysiological changes are part of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology and can signal emotional engagement during psychological treatment. Objectives: The aim of this study was to explore psychophysiological responses during multi‐modular motion‐assisted memory desensitization and reconsolidation (3MDR) therapy. Increased self-reported distress, substantially increased heart rate (HR) and breathing rate (BR) were expected at the start of therapy and predicted to improve over time. Since physical exercise demands during therapy were low, any large HR or BR responses were considered part of the psychophysiological response. Methods: This study used pooled data collected during a randomized controlled trial of 3MDR, which demonstrated significant improvement as measured by the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale. Whilst attending therapy, HR and BR data, subjective units of distress (SUD) score and phrases to describe feelings whilst exposed to trauma-related images were collected continuously from 37 UK male military veterans with PTSD. Results: HR and BR were significantly increased throughout all sessions (p < .01 for both). Whilst HR was raised slightly remaining on average below 100 beats/minute, BR was increased substantially with average values between 40 and 50 breaths/minute. SUD scores were very high during therapy which concurred with the many negative feelings experienced during therapy sessions. Across the course of the treatment, SUD scores (p < .01) and negative feelings were reduced (p < .001), and positive feelings have increased (p < .01) significantly, reflecting improvements in clinicians assessed PTSD symptoms. Across therapy sessions, HR (p = .888) and BR (p = .466) responses did not change. Conclusions: The strong psychophysiological response alongside high levels of self-reported distress and negative feelings is interpreted as high emotional engagement during therapy. A novel finding was the very significant BR increase throughout recorded sessions. Future PTSD research should include BR response to therapy and explore breathing control as a treatment target.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Healthcare Sciences
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 2000-8198
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 5 July 2021
Date of Acceptance: 22 April 2021
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2021 11:30

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