Effects of eye movement versus therapist instructions on the processing of distressing memories

J Anxiety Disord. 2008 Jun;22(5):801-8. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2007.08.007. Epub 2007 Aug 22.


The effectiveness of components of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) was tested by randomly assigning 48 participants to either an eye movement or an eye stationary condition and to one of two types of therapist instructions (reliving or distancing). Participants were university students (mean age 23) who were asked to recall a personal distressing memory with measures of distress and vividness taken before and after treatment, and at follow-up. There was no significant effect of therapist's instruction on the outcome measures. There was a significant reduction in distress for eye movement at post-treatment and at follow-up but overall no significant reduction in vividness. Post hoc analysis revealed a significant reduction in vividness only for the eye movement and distancing instruction condition. The results were consistent with other evidence that the mechanism of change in EMDR is not the same as traditional exposure.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Desensitization, Psychologic / methods*
  • Dissociative Disorders / diagnosis
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome