EMDR Research News February 2012
Field, A., & Cottrell, D. (2011). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing as a therapeutic intervention for traumatized children and adolescents: A systematic review of the evidence for family therapists. Journal of Family Therapy, 33(4), 374-388. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6427.2011.00548.x
Annalisa Field, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist East Leeds Child and Family Unit, St James' Hospital, Leeds, LS9 7TF, UK. E-mail:
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new form of psychotherapy for post-traumatic symptoms of relevance to systemic therapists. The literature available on individual EMDR in traumatized children is reviewed in this article. A sample of eight studies was examined, consisting of three controlled trials, two uncontrolled studies and three case reports or series. The controlled trials compared EMDR with waiting list controls or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The study samples were small and their methodological quality variable. In all the studies, the results suggested a positive effect for EMDR but did not appear superior to CBT. It is therefore possible that systemic interventions may be improved by the integration of EMDR and family therapy with children and adolescents.
Keller, B., Stevens, L. C., Boyce, K., Lui, C., & Murray, J. (2011). Bilateral eye movements and EEG coherence during positive memories: Implications for PTSD and EMDR. [Abstract] American Psychological Association Conference Presentation.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of bilateral eye movements in the processing of long-term emotional memories, especially as it pertains to the treatment method for PTSD known as EMDR. EMDR utilizes methods similar to cognitive therapy and exposure but also employs saccadic eye movements to facilitate the treatment. The saccadic eye movements are theorized by Shapiro and others to decrease emotional valence and vividness of episodic memories allowing for easier reprocessing. There remains some disagreement as to the actual role and importance of the saccadic eye movements as well as to the neurological effects of EMDR.
This study used EEG power-spectral analysis and measures of interhemispheric coherence on 30 individuals who underwent one of three conditions while recalling positive episodic memories. The 3 conditions were (1) a solid black dot with no eye movement (control), (2) a low frequency color changing dot with no eye movement, and (3) a bilateral eye movement condition simulating EMDR. After a 5’ eyes-open baseline, participants experienced one of the three conditions while recalling a positive memory for five 1’ episodes. After each episode, each participant had 19-channel EEGs recorded while they stared ahead eyes opened. EEG data were noise artifacted, power spectral analyzed, and statistically analyzed for interhemispheric coherence differences between conditions for clusters of frontal pole (Fp), frontal (F), central (C), parietal (P), and occipital (O) electrodes.
ANCOVA analysis of post-treatment coherence values, with baseline values as the covariate, across conditions showed significantly increased Low Beta (12-20Hz) activity in the Frontal region of the brain during the saccadic eye movements condition compared to the low frequency dot condition (p=.012). Also found were significantly increased Low Theta (4-6Hz) coherence values in the Parietal region of the brain in the low frequency dot condition compared to both the eye fixation (p=.017) and saccadic eye movement (p=.022) conditions. Self reports of memory clarity and vividness indicated significantly increased measures across all conditions. LORETA cortical localization analyses revealed Low Beta (12-20Hz) activation during the saccadic eye movements condition occurring primarily in Brodmanns Area 11 (BA11) and Brodmann Area 25 (BA25) and Low Theta (4-6Hz) activation during the low frequency dot condition focused in BA35 and BA36. LORETA neuroimages are presented.
Cortical localizations of increased Low Beta interhemispheric coherence in BA11 (VentroMedial Frontal Cortex) and BA25 (Subgenual Anterior Cingulate Cortex) following bilateral eye movements during the recall of positive memories suggest a synchronization of information processing activities in parts of the frontal cortex involved in planning, reasoning, and decision making (11) and in verbal episodic memory retrieval (25). These functions are consistent with the assigned tasks of review of positive episodic memories in this study. Coincident with this pattern of cortical activation was an obtained increase in memory clarity and vividness during episodic memory retrieval. It is possible that the obtained effects on beta activity were an artifact of eye movements; however, the lack of significantly increased signal coherence at the Fp region and the removal of eye movement artifacts prior to data analysis reduce this possibility. These results provide support for an Interhemispheric Coherence Model as an explanation for the positive effects of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing of retrieved memories. Additionally, these outcomes suggest that it is the saccadic eye movements, not a repetition of a rhythmic stimulus, that elicits the changes in interhemispheric coherence, and possibly in emotional valence and vividness, highlighting the importance of saccadic eye movements in EMDR.
Leiner, A. S., Kearns, M. C., Jackson, J. L., Astin, M. C., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2012). Avoidant coping and treatment outcome in rape-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. doi:10.1037/a0026814
Objective: This study investigated the impact of avoidant coping on treatment outcome in rape-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Method: Adult women with rape-related PTSD (N = 62) received 9 sessions of prolonged exposure (PE) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). The mean age for the sample was 34.7 years, and race or ethnicity was reported as 67.7% Caucasian, 25.8% African American, 3.2% Latina, and 3.2% other. PTSD was assessed with the PTSD Symptom Scale-Self-Report (Foa, Riggs, Dancu, & Rothbaum, 1993), and avoidant coping was assessed using the Coping Strategies Inventory-Disengagement subscale (CSI-D; Tobin, Holroyd, Reynolds, & Wigal, 1989). Results: Pretreatment avoidant coping was negatively associated with posttreatment PTSD symptom severity even when controlling for initial severity of total PTSD symptoms and when removing PTSD avoidance symptoms from the analysis to account for potential overlap between avoidant coping and PTSD avoidance symptoms: ΔR2 = .08, b* = -0.31, 95% CI [-0.17, -0.01], t(60) = -2.27, p = .028. The CSI-D pretreatment mean score of 100 predicted a 96% likelihood of experiencing clinically significant change (CSC) during treatment. A CSI-D pretreatment score of 61 was associated with a 40% likelihood of experiencing CSC. Conclusions: PE and EMDR appear to be beneficial for women who frequently engage in avoidant coping responses following rape. A small subset of women with initially low levels of avoidant coping are unlikely to experience a therapeutic response from PE or EMDR.
Pocock, D. (2011). The promise of EMDR in family and systemic psychotherapy: A clinical complement to Field and Cottrell. Journal of Family Therapy, 33(4), 389-399. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6427.2011.00547.x
David Pocock, Consultant Family Therapist, Swindon Community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist in independent practice. Address for correspondence: 3 Castle Street, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0DX, UK. E-mail:
Annalisa Field and David Cottrell's careful and balanced summary of the current state of evidence of the effectiveness of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) with children and adolescents is to be welcomed. They conclude that there is, despite an overall lack of good quality studies, some encouraging emerging evidence. They set out a future scenario for development in which these hopeful indications may be sufficient to convince clinicians to train and consider using EMDR in practice. That may in turn lead to more people publishing the results of their nascent practice, and greater availability of therapists would enable larger scale randomized controlled studies to be designed and carried out. In this clinical addendum I seek to complement Field and Cottrell's sense of promise by setting out ways in which EMDR has become incorporated in my systemic psychotherapy practice during the last 3 years.
This month’s EMDR video is PTSD treatment with EMDR from ABC 7 News (Australia) featuring interviews with John Buttsworth and Gary Fulcher on EMDR treatment of survivors of a mass shooting incident in Sydney Australia. The “Strathfield massacre” took place on Saturday, August 17, 1991. The shooter killed himself as police arrived at the scene. The incident left eight dead and six wounded.
This month there is a bonus video interview from the January 2010 This Emotional Life on PBS featuring an interview with Dr. Barbara Rothbaum speaking about symptoms, treatment, and hope for recovery from PTSD. This video provides an educational overview of PTSD intended for the general public. Dr. Rothbaum has been principle investigator or co-author for several articles reporting on randomized, controlled treatment outcome studies of EMDR and Prolonged Exposure including the 2012 article cited above.