Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing:  Effectiveness and autonomic correlates


18 subjects distressed by memories of a specific traumatic event were randomly assigned to a single session of 1 of 3 conditions: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a Time Interval Condition (TIC), or Tapping Alternate Phalanges (TAP). All subjects treated in the EMDR group showed desensitization as monitored by SUDs, which correlated with the physiological data and cessation of pronounced symptomatology. Only 1 subject in a control group showed desensitization. Compared to TIC and TAP, autonomic measures showed distinct changes during EMDR: (1) respiration synchronized with the rhythm of the eye movements in a shallow, regular pattern; (2) heart rate slowed significantly overall; (3) systolic blood pressure increased during early sets, invariable declined during abreactions, and decreased overall; (4) finger tip skin temperature consistently increased; and (5) the galvanic skin response consistently decreased in a clear "relaxation response." This relaxing effect of the eye movements suggests that at least one of the mechanisms operating during EMDR is desensitization by reciprocal inhibition, by pairing emotional distress with an unlearned or "compelled" relaxation response.






David L. Wilson
Steven M. Silver
William G. Covi
Sandra "Sam" Foster

Original Work Citation

Wilson, D. L., Silver, S. M., Covi, W. G., & Foster, S. (1996, September). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Effectiveness and autonomic correlates. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 27(3), 219-229. doi:10.1016/S0005-7916(96)00026-2



“Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing:  Effectiveness and autonomic correlates,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 24, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/16106.

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