Does EMDR Work?

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and is a non-traditional psychotherapy approach. This model was created by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s, so it is relatively new (as compared to Sigmund Freud’s creation of psychoanalysis in late 1800s/early 1900s). Over the past 40 years, EMDR has been demonstrated to be effective through multiple controlled and randomized studies. It is an evidence-based treatment primarily used to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma, anxiety disorders and phobias, depression, substance abuse trauma, grief, eating disorders, attachment concerns, among others. The United States Department of Health and Human Services endorses EMDR as an evidence-based practice for the treatment of PTSD through SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) (SAMHSA 2017). The American Psychiatric Association (since 2002), the World Health Association, and the United States Department of Defense all endorse EMDR as an evidence-based treatment.

An interesting study by Marcus, Marquis, and Sakai (1997) randomized participants with PTSD to either receive EMDR, or standard care. They found that the EMDR group experienced a significant reduction of PTSD symptoms much quicker than the standard care group; significant reduction of symptoms was measured after only 3 EMDR sessions. Their work also demonstrated that those who received EMDR required fewer medications and fewer ongoing psychotherapy sessions. In short, the EMDR group got a lot better faster than the traditional care approach to treat PTSD.

Just like other research topics, older studies have been criticized for using poor research methods or small sample sizes. Recent controlled studies demonstrate EMDR’s effectiveness and safety as a psychotherapy treatment (please see EMDR Institute and EMDRIA websites for references and more information). For a general summary of literature review regarding the research on EMDR, see Knox (2004), who indicates that even by 1990 there were over 300 journal articles about EMDR. EMDR has captivated researchers due to its effectiveness, even while some aspects of the neurobiological underpinning remain hypothesized or not well understood.

To answer the question, does EMDR work it’s important to note that EMDR has been researched, applied, and continues to be a valuable psychotherapy treatment because it can work extremely quickly and has lasting benefits. The leading mental and behavioral health organizations of the world support EMDR as an effective treatment, while under the use of a licensed professional who has advanced training, certification in EMDR, and clinical experience. I will stress the importance of finding a qualified, certified psychotherapist with whom you feel comfortable. There are qualified, licensed providers worldwide and online therapist searches are available at EMDR Consulting ( and EMDR Institute.

Knox, K., S. (2004). Evidence-based practice with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing In A. R. Roberts, K. R. Yeager (Eds.), Evidence-based practice manual: Research and outcome measures in health and human services (pp. 324-331). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Marcus, S. V., Marquis, p., & Sakai, C. (1997). Controlled study of treatment of PTSD using EMDR in an HMO setting. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 34(3), 307-315.

SAMHSA (2017). Retrieved from:

EMDR Institute website:
EMDRIA website:
EMDR Consulting website:

About the Author
AnnMarie Nelson, LMFT 97177 offer in-person psychotherapy services at her office in beautiful Mission Viejo, California, and offers web based services for residents of California. She is certified in EMDR and has treated children age 4 and up, and adults using EMDR. She specializes in treating trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, life transitions such as death or divorce. Her office welcomes your call at 949.445.0510.

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