The role of gaze behavior in eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR): Application to an elite athlete population


Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a complex psychological methodology integrating components of therapeutic approaches (psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, experiential, feminist) in combination with a variety of bilateral eye movements (Shapiro, 2001). EMDR has its most widespread use in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An extensive amount of research has been carried out on EMDR as a therapy; however, research on the role of eye movements is limited and controversial. Tracking or saccadic eye movements have yet to be established as a scientifically necessary part of the treatment. The present study examined the saccadic (S) and tracking (T) gaze behaviours of elite athletes undergoing EMDR therapy, compared to a control (C) group that did not receive a similar treatment. It was hypothesized that the EMDR therapy would lead to greater gains in psychological wellness and sports performance and that furthermore, the greatest improvement would be in those who maintained higher levels of saccades over each EMDR set. It was found that three of seven athletes in the T group used primarily saccades early in the first session, while none of the S group changed their gaze behaviour. The S resultant and T gaze assigned groups reported significantly better validity of cognition (VOC) and subjective units of distress (SUDS) scores than the C group, as well as cognitive anxiety (CSAI2). Level of stress (SUDS) was reduced most using the tracking intervention, while positive cognition (VOC) were facilitated more by, the use of saccades. The sports performance results were inconclusive. The theoretical and applied aspects of EMDR are discussed and suggestions for future research presented.







“The role of gaze behavior in eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR): Application to an elite athlete population,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed June 18, 2021,

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