An empirical investigation of eye movement desensitization


Recently, a series of studies have presented a highly unorthodox procedure, Eye Movement Desensitization (EMD), which involved the repeated exposure of a subject to their own disturbing memories while generating a series of saccadic eye movements. These reports are largely clinical case reports, therefore the technique has not been empirically validated. The current investigation determined if the simple saccadic eye movements (rhythmically tracking a stimulus) in conjunction with the repeated exposure decreased the intensity of disturbing memories experienced in PTSD or whether such decreases could be obtained through repeated exposure alone. Subject's self-reports and physiological information regarding the discomfort experienced during their disturbing memories were recorded prior to, during, and following treatment. Diagnostic procedures including a structured clinical interview were utilized in making diagnoses.A series of three multiple baseline across subjects single-case experimental designs were utilized. Results indicate that rates of distress were uniformly high during the intake/baseline. The initial control treatment condition, Shapiro's EMD treatment package minus the saccadic eye movements, was ineffective in altering these high levels of distress. Treatment of these 6 patients with the EMD protocol resulted in 5 of the 6 subjects showing clinically significant decreases in their self-reported levels of distress around their intrusive disturbing memories. Physiological data also reflected greater positive change during the EMD treatment for each subject. Overall, the EMD treatment protocol resulted in over a 70% decrease in self-reported distress across the 6 subjects investigated. This investigation of the use of EMD with non-combat PTSD subjects reflects the first investigation of EMD with this population utilizing single-case experimental methodology. The results were clear and dramatic. The treatment was effective with 5 of the 6 subjects and for that subject who reported no positive changes issues of secondary gain for continued disability were salient. Overall, this report represents an attempt to investigate EMD with a PTSD population utilizing a systematically replicated multiple baseline across subjects design. Further investigation, particularly focusing on treatment package dismantling, is therefore called for with EMD.






Robert W. Montgomery, Jr.

Original Work Citation

Montgomery, R. W. (1993). An empirical investigation of eye movement desensitization. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B. Sciences and Engineering, 54(10), 5397



“An empirical investigation of eye movement desensitization,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed November 30, 2020,

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