Synthesis of previous research on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)


In 1987, Professional School of Psychological Studies graduate student Francine Shapiro was on a walk in the park when she personally observed that randomized eye movements seemed to make disturbing thoughts less upsetting (Colwell, 2000). From this initial experience Shapiro created the therapy known as Eye Movement Desensitization (EMD), integrating rhythmic eye movements with “other treatment elements” (EMDR 2004). Shapiro investigated this phenomenon further in a controlled study on twenty-three subjects with traumatic memories and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. In the study, the subjects were first asked to rate their feelings of discomfort regarding a particular traumatic memory using the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUDs) scale which uses a 0 – 10 rating system to express emotional distress. Subjects were also asked to think of a Positive Self-Statement (PSS) they would like to attach to the memory, erasing a negative one. The subjects then evaluated their confidence in the truth of the PSS on a scale from 1 - 7, where one was completely false, and seven were completely true. On average, before treatment the subjects reported a SUDs score of seven and expressed the validity of the PSS as four. After a single EMD session, subjects on average evaluated the memory as less than one on the SUDs scale, and the positive self-thought was receiving ratings above six. These results remained consistent three months later (Lipke & Botkin, 1992), leading Shapiro claim in her dissertation that “a single session of the procedure was sufficient to desensitize subjects” (EMDR, 2004). The publication of Shapiro’s dissertation came nine years after the American Psychiatric Association added Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the DSM-III in 1980 (Friedman, 2006), and EMD quickly became a popular PTSD treatment.






Katharine Newman

Original Work Citation

Newman, K. (2006, November). Synthesis of previous research on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Psychology 203, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton,VA.



“Synthesis of previous research on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR),” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 22, 2020,

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