Reducing distress following assault in the workplace


Background: Nurses working in inpatient mental health settings report high rates of assault and psychological morbidity. Psychological debriefing is the main form of post-incident support, yet its efficacy has been widely questioned.
Aim: To determine whether eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is effective in reducing the psychological distress experienced by nurses after an assault at work.

Method: Four participants experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms following a workplace assault completed between three and five sessions of EMDR. A multiple-baseline, case series design was used, and quantitative and qualitative outcome data were collected.

Results: The results showed a clinically significant reduction in the level of emotional distress associated with traumatic memories, avoidance and intrusion symptoms between the pre and post-treatment data collection points for all participants. There was also an increase in the strength of belief in positive coping cognitions concerning the event following EMDR therapy in all participants. These improvements were maintained at one-month follow-up for three of the four participants. The study results did not show a reduction in general psychological distress.

Conclusion: The value of EMDR as a form of post-incident support lies in its alleviation of specific post-traumatic stress symptoms, rather than in improving general psychological wellbeing. The data must be interpreted with caution, but the positive outcomes suggest the need for further case series research, or a more controlled design with a larger sample.






Terry Spokes
Marthinus Hofmeyr
Peter Hopkinson

Original Work Citation

Spokes, T., Hofmeyr, M., & Hopkinson, P. (2011, August). Reducing distress following assault in the workplace. Nursing Times, 107, Online Issue 9; Nursing Times.Net. Retrieved from on August 9, 2011



“Reducing distress following assault in the workplace,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed June 20, 2021,

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