Emotional processing during eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy of Vietnam veterans with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder

Compr Psychiatry. 1996 Nov-Dec;37(6):419-29. doi: 10.1016/s0010-440x(96)90025-5.


This study examined emotional processing and outcome in 17 Vietnam veterans with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who underwent eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, with and without the eye movement component, in a crossover design. Results supported the occurrence of partial emotional processing, but there were no differences in its extent in the eye-movement versus eyes-fixed conditions. Therapy produced a modest to moderate overall improvement, mostly on the impact of Event Scale. There was slightly more improvement in the eyes-fixed than eye-movement condition. There was little association between the extent of emotional processing and therapeutic outcome. In our hands, EMDR was at least as efficacious for combat-related PTSD as imaginal flooding proved to be in a previous study, and was better tolerated by subjects. However, results suggest that eye movements do not play a significant role in processing of traumatic information in EMDR and that factors other than eye movements are responsible for EMDR's therapeutic effect.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognition
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Desensitization, Psychologic*
  • Emotions
  • Eye Movements*
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Psychological Theory
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • United States
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Vietnam
  • Warfare*