Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing: A new treatment for trauma


Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has been hailed as a new experimental treatment for survivors of trauma that can provide rapid relief from the debilitating symptoms associated with PTSD. EMDR's efficacy reportedly stems from the use of eye-movements that are postulated to stimulate physiological changes in brain activity to produce cognitive restructuring and desensitization of emotional discomfort. This novel procedure has become more prominent with reported benefits for an increasing range of clinical applications. Since there is minimal controlled research, especially in a civilian population, on psychological methods to treat the ill effects of trauma and because EMDR has limited empirical support, further controlled investigation was warranted to supplement this limited body of scientific knowledge.Consequently, the specific goals of this controlled study were to evaluate (1) the efficacy of EMDR in the treatment of civilian trauma survivors, (2) whether or not eye-movements are instrumental to the therapeutic process, and (3) the treatment impact on intrusive and avoidant symptoms. It was hypothesized that (1) an EMDR treatment group would demonstrate greater efficacy when compared to an Alternative group which followed the same treatment protocol except for the substitution of deep breathing for the eye-movements, (2) both the EMDR and Alternative treatments would show significant improvement over a Control group, and (3) there would be similar changes in intrusive and avoidant symptoms. Findings at two month follow-up indicated the EMDR group had significant reductions in intrusive/avoidant symptoms (using the Impact of Event Scale), decreased emotional discomfort related to traumatic memories (rated by Subjective Units of Distress), and improvements in positive self-evaluations (measured by the Validity of Cognition Scale). There were similar results in the Alternative group with the exception of no significant improvement in self-evaluation. This latter finding provides some support for the hypothesis that eye-movements facilitate a cognitive restructuring. Comparisons between the EMDR and Alternative treatments, however, found no significant differences on any of the dependent measures. That is, both treatments appeared to produce comparable positive results which implied eye-movements were no more effective than deep breathing. In addition, both treatments were found to be more effective in easing intrusive symptoms. Other similarities included observable relaxation reactions in both treatments. These overall findings imply a similar change mechanism. Therefore, the efficacy of EMDR may stem more from reciprocal inhibition rather than a cognitive restructuring induced by the eye-movements. If this is valid, then EMDR may be a variant of systematic desensitization.






Gerald L. Alatalo

Original Work Citation

Alatalo, G. L. (1995, September). Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing: A new treatment for trauma. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 56(3-B), 1690



“Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing: A new treatment for trauma,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed January 28, 2022, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/17589.

Output Formats