Anorexia nervosa: CBT versus EMDR (A preliminary study)


In treating clients with Anorexia Nervosa, what does appear to be consistent is the general view (e.g. Waller; Treasure; Brewer) that recovery will take on average between 1 to 2 years with many clients suffering from this disorder never making a full or complete recovery. 16 clients with a previous diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and under medical supervision with a BMI of between 16.5 � 18 and still meeting criteria of Anorexia Nervosa (DSM IV) were offered either EMDR (N.10) or CBT (N. 6). No therapeutic emphasis was placed directly on food in either the CBT or the EMDR group (e.g. Fairburn). Those receiving EMDR recovered substantially quicker once the target memory precipitating the Anorexic Onset was identified. Interestingly, food intake and weight increased without needing to be targeted as a separate matter, once the �feeder-memory� had been adapted in 8 out of the 10 EMDR clients. Whilst the CBT group did improve, they continued to fluctuate in terms of active anorexic patterns of behaviour and their weight or food intake did not appear to improve significantly. Although this is only a preliminary study, the EMDR group reached �recovery� at around the 3 � 4 month mark, compared to the CBT group, who still reported phobic reactions to both body-image and food at the 4 month mark. At the initial 1- month follow-up post-study, the CBT group were still exhibiting symptoms of mental pre-occupation with diet / weight compared to the EMDR group, who had reached normal BMI ranges (N. 9) and all reported little to no pre-occupation with diet / weight. It would appear, on the basis of this preliminary study that the precipitators to the development of Anorexia respond well to EMDR treatment targeting the precipitant memory. Furthermore, 6 of the EMDR group reported using the safe-space imagery to reduce their anxieties surrounding food and this may have been a contributory factor in their recovery.






Susan Darker-Smith

Original Work Citation

Darker-Smith, S. (2008, June). Anorexia nervosa: CBT versus EMDR (A preliminary study). Presentation at the 9th EMDR International Association Conference, London, England



“Anorexia nervosa: CBT versus EMDR (A preliminary study),” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 24, 2020,

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