Where do I find more information about what Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) looks like?

Is EMDR actually supported for treating PTSD?

  • Research supports EMDR as an efficacious treatment for PTSD, but not superior to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). although, the dosage of EMDR treatment is lower than for CBT-based trauma therapies as EMDR has little to no homework (Ho & Lee, 2012) …but we all benefit from self-care between sessions. For more references check out these websites:
  • US Department of Veterans Affairs Clinical Practice Guidelines for the management of posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder list EMDR, along with CBT-based trauma therapies, as having Strong Evidence.

What about the eye movements…is EMDR anything more than just imaginal exposure and do the eye movements really do anything?

  • Research supports efficacy of EMDR as equal to CBT-based trauma therapies in treating PTSD. In and between sessions, CBT-based trauma therapies often use imaginal exposure (thinking about the trauma) and/or real world exposure (doing things that feel triggering…) . It is entirely possible EMDR is using the same imaginal exposure you would do using a CBT-based trauma treatment, but you will only need to do it in session and not usually as homework between sessions.
  • Researchers hypothesize the eye movements or alternating stimulation back and forth on the left and right sides of the body may do something like 1) initiate information processing like in REM sleep (that’s the phase of our sleep when we think we consolidate memories, we do much of our dreaming and when our eyes are flicking around), 2) distract us or calm us to allow the brain to lower the “Fight/Flight” mode and allow it to process the emotionally disturbing information, 3) remind us we are actually in a room with someone else and not really back when the memory was happening to allow the brain to realize this and process the information, 4) or something else we ma not realize yet.
  • Research supports EMDR with eye movements as more efficacious than EMDR without eye movements (Lee & P, 2013). 
  • …As long as this treatment is supported by research, we both agree to to try it, we monitor the outcomes for you, and there is less dosage than a CBT-based treatment for the same diagnosis, I’m ok with not knowing the full mechanism of action for now…we don’t know the full mechanism of action for many medical therapies and we choose to use those when research supports them as efficacious in treatment. I do prefer the reduced amount of homework for clients. I see this as reduced treatment dosage.

Is EMDR actually supported for treating issues other than PTSD?

  • There is only preliminary research evidence for efficacy of EMDR in treating disorders and issues other than PTSD. If you and I decide to experiment in using it to assist in your treatment, we will discus this and consider it experimental.
  • See this website for a list of research studies. Many are pilot or preliminary research studies: https://www.emdr.com/research-overview/#meta-analyses
Ho, M. S. K., & Lee, C. W. (2012). Cognitive behaviour therapy versus eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for post-traumatic disorder–is it all in the homework then?. Revue Européenne de Psychologie Appliquée/European Review of Applied Psychology, 62(4), 253-260.
Lee, C.W., & Cuijpers, P. (2013).  A meta-analysis of the contribution of eye movements in processing emotional memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry, 44, 231-239.

My caveat/disclaimer: I have reviewed these resources, BUT I did not create them and do not continuously monitor them. I only include resources I believe to be reliable, but given the nature of the internet, these links or their information may be changed without my knowledge. …so, always read critically, consult with your healthcare provider before making changes to your healthcare plan…and, if you are in crisis, you probably already know to look for help (911, hospital emergency, crisis line 1-800-784-2433) and reach out to someone.