Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A comprehensive literature review


Since Francine Shapiro's first published paper on EMD therapy in 1989, there has been a tendency toward polarization in EMDR research. Those who tend to believe in the effectiveness of EMDR tend to find results which confirm their point of view. Those who have been very skeptical about the effectiveness of EMDR have tended to produce findings which validated their perspective also. The result of this has been years of back and forth research, without a great deal of moving forward by asking new questions based on previous findings. This literature review involved evaluating all available research on EMDR published in English as of March 1, 2002. Studies were categorized as contributing to knowledge about EMDR in general, or emphasizing specific aspects. Specific aspects were breadth of application, subjectivity of effects, EMDR's effect on intrusive PTSD symptoms, the necessity for eye movements, how EMDR works, if it does, and whether it produces lasting change.Findings included a probable effect from EMDR in treating traumatic memories. It has not been found equally effective in treating other kinds of anxiety or other psychological maladies. Subjectivity is an ongoing issue in EMDR research, yet there are several forms of data indicating an effect in a context in which subjectivity could not have been a significant factor. If EMDR works better for intrusive PTSD symptoms compared to others, the difference is minor. The necessity of eye movements has not been clarified, largely because of the use of alternate forms of bilateral brain stimulation as a control condition when these in fact may promote a similar process. EMDR appears to produce change that is as lasting as any other form of psychotherapy. The main conclusion is that there is a paucity of research including a variety of independent variables. The ongoing battle as to whether EMDR works or not has delayed thorough inquiry into for whom it works, compared to for whom it does not work. It is argued that the field, as well as the clinical population, would be well served if research could move in the direction of rectifying this situation.






Erik Tootell

Original Work Citation

Tootell, E. (2004). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A comprehensive literature review. (Dissertation, Argosy University)



“Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A comprehensive literature review,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed May 14, 2021, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/17395.

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