Work mechanisms in EMDR


Eye movements (EMs) during retrieval of negative memories reduce the vividness and emotionality of these memories when they are being recalled later. This is a robust phenomenon and is the basis of the EMDR method. Of the many explanations that have been put forward to explain the benefits of EMs, the working memory (WM) explanation has – by far - the most empirical support. The WM hypothesis will be explained and a new series of experiments will be presented that give additional support for the WM account and have some large clinical implications.
1.In over 50% of the EMDR treatments eye movements are replaced by other bilateral stimulation like auditory tones or tapping. These ‘variants’ lack empirical support. Several studies (in healthy subjects and patients) strongly suggest that that these alternatives are inferior to eye movements. This is in line with the working memory account. 2.Eye movements are also used in (non-desensitization) procedures like the safe place and the RDI procedure. Again, there is no empirical support for the added value of eye movements. Our research indicates that – in line with the WM theory – EM’s seem counterproductive in RDI. 3.EMs also reduce the vividness and emotionality of (disturbing) images of feared future events: “flashworwards”.
Learning objectives: Research data in a non-clinical sample and some clinical cases will be presented.






Hellen Hornsveld

Original Work Citation

Hornsveld, H. (2011, June). Work mechanisms in EMDR. Presentation at the 12th EMDR Europe Association Conference, Vienna, Austria



“Work mechanisms in EMDR,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed December 8, 2021,

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