Crucial processes in EMDR - More than imaginal exposure


The processes that underlie the effectiveness of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are examined by evaluating the procedural differences between it and exposure therapy. Major factors include the degree of emphasis placed on reliving versus distancing in the therapies and the degree to which clients are encouraged to focus on direct trauma experiences versus experiences associated with the trauma. Research results indicate that, unlike traditional imaginal exposure, reliving responses in EMDR did not correlate with symptom improvement. Instead, consistent with an information processing model, the degree of distancing in EMDR was significantly associated with improvement. A case study is described to highlight these methodological divergences in the respective therapies relating to reliving. Finally, the research regarding the possible sources of the distancing response within EMDR was examined. The results indicate that the distancing process was more likely to be an effect produced by eye movements than by any therapist instructions. Theoretical and research evaluations indicate that the mechanisms underlying EMDR and traditional exposure therapy are different.






Christopher W. Lee

Original Work Citation

Lee, C. (2008). Crucial processes in EMDR - More than imaginal exposure. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2(4), 262-268. doi:10.1891/1933-3196.2.4.262



“Crucial processes in EMDR - More than imaginal exposure,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 22, 2020,

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