The psychophysiology effects of eye movement in EMDR


EMDR has in its short time of existence become an established therapy treating PTSD. The importance of the eye movement (EM) has so far been difficult to demonstrate, given that data supporting possible relationships between physiological variables and the therapeutic effect while conducting EM has not yet been recorded. Although theories have been presented, there is no data to support them. Our dismantling case study presents the first preliminary results from actual treatment studies and compares them with suggested theories. The results are based on three EMDR sessions treating a refugee diagnosed with chronic PTSD. In each session, heart rate, skin conductance, finger temptation, EMG, expiratory carbon dioxide, and oxygen saturation were recorded continuously. Our data demonstrates a strong and consistent trend toward an altered physiological state during EM. The directions of physiological change were consistent in all sessions. All alterations indicated raised activitry in the parasympatic nervous system and were thus compatible with the Stickgold hypothesis suggestion that EMDR increases processing of unprocessed traumatic memories through activation of cholinergic systems. Despite the small scale of our study, these novel and interesting findings generate a new fore further research. Our psychophysiological approach appears to be a promising path.






Hans Peter Sondergaard
Bo von Scheele
Frederik Garpe
Ulf Elofsson
Tores Theorell

Original Work Citation

Sondergaard, H. P., von Scheele, B., Garpe, F., Elofsson, U., & Theorell, T. (2004, June). The psychophysiology effects of eye movement in EMDR. In symposium EMDR, biology, and the body (J. Spector, Chair). Symposium conducted at the 5th EMDR Europe Association Conference, Stockholm, Sweden



“The psychophysiology effects of eye movement in EMDR,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 3, 2020,

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