Alterations in autonomic tone during trauma therapy with EMDR


Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia: Insights into Autonomic Function in PTSD: Studies of cardiac responses to trauma-related cues have defined the mainstream of laboratory research in posttraumatic stress disorder. Examinations of respiratory sinus arrhythmia now challenge the view that exaggerated sympathetic tone and reactivity provide a sufficient account of the autonomic abnormalities seen in this diagnosis.

Alterations in autonomic tone during trauma therapy with EMDR: It has been hypothesized that EDMR, by pairing stimuli that evoke divided attention with exposure to trauma memories, elicits repetitive orienting responses followed by enhanced parasympathetic tone, resulting in significant within-session psychophysiological de-arousal. We monitored 10 standard EMDR treatments for PTSD (55 sessions) with impedance cardiography. Heart rate (HR), parasympathetic tone (RMSSD), sympathetic tone (PEP), and respiration rate (RESP) were assessed. Markers were set at the onset of every stimulation/exposure period (N = 811). Effects within and across stimulation sets were examined. An orienting response, with associated sharp increase of parasympathetic tone and significant decrease of HR, was found at stimulation onsets. During ongoing stimulation, sympathetic arousal increased while parasympathetic tone decreased, responses consistent with stressrelated arousal during trauma exposure. However, across entire sessions there was a significant pattern of psychophysiological de-arousal, evidenced by progressively decreasing HR and increasing RMSSD. These findings suggest EMDR is associated with distinct patterns






Martin Sack

Original Work Citation

Sack, M. (2005, November). Alterations in autonomic tone during trauma therapy with EMDR. In Respiratory sinus arrhythmia: Insights into autonomic function in PTSD (S. Woodword, J. Hopper, M. Sack, R. Pitman, & D. Kaloupek, Chairs). Symposium conducted at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies 21st Annual Meeting, Toronto, ON



“Alterations in autonomic tone during trauma therapy with EMDR,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed August 12, 2020,

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