Treating PTSD with EMDR


The diagnosis of PTSD is becoming more prevalent with 2.4 million American soldiers having served in the Iraq and Afghanistan war more than 100,000 were treated for PTSD (NPR). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop from an exposure that compromises a person’s ‘physical integrity’ causing psychological trauma. The exposure of a traumatic event overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope, compromising brain function specifically the hippocampus, which is responsible for the consolidation and storing of memory. Symptoms such as, re-experiencing the trauma through night terrors or flashbacks that occur from triggers lead to avoidance, difficulty falling asleep, hyper vigilance, anger, a high risk for substance abuse, depression, and in some cases suicidal ideation. PTSD is difficult to treat, and has varying success rates. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), is a novel but controversial form of treatment that was recently recognized by the American Psychological Association. EMDR is an exposure therapy that enables the individual to access and process traumatic memories to achieve resolution. Founder Francine Shapiro hypothesizes that the endorsement of a saccadic eye movement ‘desensitizes’ the hippocampus by activating both sides side of the brain allowing the trauma to be processed. Empirical data has shown a decrease in hippocampal volume in those diagnosed with PTSD, which may suggest that it has significant negative effects on brain functioning. EMDR is as efficacious as other psychotherapies such as Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but it remains unclear whether the symptom reduction is a product of the actual eye movement or the psychotherapeutic component. Counselors are trained to take their patients point of view, and if many patients have self-reported significant symptom reductions then this central piece of feedback is a justification for EMDR. However, more research must be conducted to find why these symptoms are being reduced. Specifically, the treatment of eye movement and psychotherapy need to be measured separately to truly test the supporting hypothesis.






Jade Stevens

Original Work Citation

Stevens, J. (2013, April). Treating PTSD with EMDR. Poster presentation at the 8th Annual Natural & Behavioral Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO



“Treating PTSD with EMDR,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed August 3, 2020,

Output Formats