Does EMDR work? And if so, why?: a critical review of controlled outcome and dismantling research

J Anxiety Disord. 1999 Jan-Apr;13(1-2):5-33. doi: 10.1016/s0887-6185(98)00039-5.


Research on Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) was reviewed to answer the questions "Does EMDR work?" and "If so, Why?" This first question was further subdivided on the basis of the control group: (a) no-treatment (or wait list control), (b) nonvalidated treatments, and (c) other validated treatments. The evidence supports the following general conclusions: First, EMDR appears to be effective in reducing at least some indices of distress relative to no-treatment in a number of anxiety conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and public-speaking anxiety. Second, EMDR appears at least as effective or more effective than several nonvalidated treatments (e.g., relaxation, active listening) for posttraumatic stress reactions. Third, despite statements implying the contrary, no previously published study has directly compared EMDR with an independently validated treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (e.g., therapist-directed flooding). In the treatment of simple phobia, participant modeling has been found to be more effective than EMDR. Fourth, our review of dismantling studies reveals there is no convincing evidence that eye movements significantly contribute to treatment outcome. Recommendations regarding further research directions are provided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / standards
  • Desensitization, Psychologic / methods*
  • Desensitization, Psychologic / standards
  • Eye Movements*
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy / standards
  • Life Change Events
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care* / methods
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care* / standards
  • Panic Disorder / therapy
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy
  • Psychotherapy / methods
  • Psychotherapy / standards
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy