The effectiveness of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing toward anxiety disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

J Psychiatr Res. 2020 Apr:123:102-113. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.01.005. Epub 2020 Jan 28.


Background: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has been well established as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, PTSD has been re-categorized as part of trauma and stressor-related disorders instead of anxiety disorders. We conducted the first meta-analysis on Randomized Controlled Trials to evaluate the effectiveness of EMDR on reducing symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Methods: A manual and systematic search using various databases and reference lists of systematic review articles published up to December 2018 was conducted. The symptoms of anxiety, phobia, panic, traumatic feelings and behaviors/somatic symptoms were examined. Hedges' g effect sizes were computed, and random effect models were used for all analyses.

Results: A total of 17 trials with 647 participants were included in this meta-analysis. EMDR was associated with a significant reduction of anxiety (g = -0.71; 95% CI: -0.96 to -0.47), panic (g = -0.62; 95% CI: -1.10 to -0.14), phobia (g = -0.45; 95% CI: -0.81 to -0.08), behavioural/somatic symptoms (g = -0.40; 95% CI: -0.63 to -0.12), but not traumatic feelings (g = -0.48; 95% CI: -1.14 to -0.18). Subgroup analysis revealed greater effects of EMDR if compared to passive control. However, the effects were not significantly different based on the duration, number of therapy sessions, or the number of weekly sessions.

Conclusions: Our meta-analysis indicates that EMDR is efficacious for reducing symptoms of anxiety, panic, phobia, and behavioural/somatic symptoms. Further research is needed to explore EMDR's long term efficacy on anxiety disorders.

Keywords: Anxiety disorders; Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; Meta-analysis; Randomized controlled trials.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing*
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / therapy