Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder


introduced in 1989 by Shapiro (1989), as a treatment for posttraumatic stress symptoms. The therapy evolved over time through a series of investigative strategies including case studies, uncontrolled group studies, quasi-experiments, wellcontrolled investigations, and meta-analytic examinations of efficacy and effectiveness. Along with this evolution in research strategy, EMDR has seen an evolution in the technique over the same period with modifications of small and modest scope not all of which were driven by empirical science, although consensus by trainers and practitioners has led to a reasonably clear statement of therapeutic procedures. The treatment package has seen application around the world in the treatment of posttraumatic stress symptoms (the primary focus of the present article) arising from a range of pivotal traumata including natural disaster, civilian, and military sources. This article has been summarized in a number of recent reviews and meta-analytic investigations with the overall conclusion that EMDR is a stand-alone frontline, evidence-based therapy (National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 2005; International Society for the Traumatic Stress Studies, 2005; APA Task force on Dissemination of Efficacious Interventions (Chambless et al., 1998); Spates et al., 2009; Spates and Rubin, 2012). When implemented as a coherent package, the treatment achieves clinically and statistically significant improvement on standard symptom measures, although the intervention is robust against procedural modifications. That is to say it seems to achieve positive outcomes with or without eye movement inductions, with or without cognitive elements of the standard procedure, whether visual tracking or auditory tracking is utilized, and with or without any bilateral tracking of any sort. These observations beg the question as to what are EMDR’s essential features and what underlying theory best accounts for observed findings. Adaptive Information Processing Theory (AIP) has been put forth as an explanation (Solomon and Shapiro, 2008), at least in providing a heuristic for clinical practitioners and researchers to apprehend a conceptual grasp of putative mechanism(s) of action. In this article we describe the EMDR treatment package as applied to the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and briefly review its history. We provide a brief critical review of primary investigations and meta-analytic studies since 2010, as well as research bearing on proposed theory (AIP) and putative mechanism of action, reviewing quality of the research throughout. We identify core measures commonly used with EMDR and in the process propose additional measurement approaches to assist in the identification of mechanism(s) of action. Finally, we point to the policy status of this treatment, concluding with recommendations for practice and research.


Book Section




Chelsea Sage
Andrew C. Hale
C. Richard Spates

Original Work Citation

Sage, C., Hale, A. C., & Spates, C. R.(2016). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. In Howard S. Friedman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Mental Health (2nd Ed., Vol. 2) (pp. 217-225). Waltham, MA: Academic Press



“Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed November 23, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/25863.

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