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PTSD Research

Three studies1,2,3 have indicated an elimination of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis in 77-90% of civilian participants after three to seven sessions. Other studies using participants with PTSD4,5,6 have found significant decreases in a wide range of symptoms after two or three active treatment sessions. Treatment effects are well maintained at follow-up assessments. For example, one study reported an 84% remission of PTSD diagnosis at 15 month follow-up7.

Studies using waitlist controls found EMDR superior; studies comparing EMDR to commonly used treatments such as biofeedback assisted relaxation8, active listening5, and various forms of individual therapy in a Kaiser Permanente HMO facility2 found EMDR superior to the control condition on measures of posttraumatic stress.


Five randomized clinical trials have compared EMDR to exposure therapies4,9,15 and to cognitive therapies plus exposure1,10. These studies have found substantially no difference between EMDR and the cognitive/behavioral (CBT) control, with a superiority in two studies for EMDR on measures of PTSD intrusive symptoms and in one for CBT (using imaginal and therapist-assisted in vivo exposure) on intrusion and avoidance. There were two controlled studies without randomization; one11 found the CBT condition superior to EMDR and the other12 found EMDR superior to the CBT control on multiple measures. EMDR is more efficient than CBT, as it does not require homework and some studies have indicated that it may also take fewer sessions. Treatment effects have generally been well maintained. [For more information, see Comparison of EMDR and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies].

Several controlled field studies have tested EMDR in community settings such as low cost agencies5, an HMO facility2 and a university based clinic serving the outside community4. Such studies, which reported good results, have excellent external validity. In the only controlled study that has treated disaster-related PTSD13 , school children’s PTSD symptoms were markedly reduced after EMDR treatment, with an improvement in overall health measured by fewer health visits to the school nurse. This was also the first controlled outcome study of any treatment for children with PTSD.

Studies with combat veterans were hampered by insufficient treatment time and fidelity to treatment. The only randomized study using the 12 session suggested minimum treatment14 indicated that 77% of the Vietnam veterans no longer had PTSD after the 12 sessions8. A post hoc analysis of a PTSD program in the VA found a superiority of EMDR over the two other treatments used.16

EMDR has been recognized as an efficacious treatment for PTSD [See Efficacy of EMDR].

For more information about each of these studies, see Studies Investigating EMDR Treatment of PTSD


1Lee, C. & Gavriel, H., Drummond, P., Richards, J. & Greenwald, R. (2002). Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: A comparison of stress inoculation training with prolonged exposure and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 1071-1089.

2Marcus, S. , Marquis, P. & Sakai, C. (1997). Controlled study of treatment of PTSD using EMDR in an HMO setting. Psychotherapy, 34, 307-315.

3Rothbaum, B.O. (1997). A controlled study of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for posttraumatic stress disordered sexual assault victims. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 61, 317-334.

4Ironson, G.I., Freund, B., Strauss, J.L., & Williams, J. (2002). A comparison of two treatments for traumatic stress: A community based study of EMDR and prolonged exposure. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 113-128.

5Scheck, M.M., Schaeffer, J..A. & Gillette, C.S. (1998). Brief psychological intervention with traumatized young women: The efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11, 25-44.

6Wilson, S.A., Becker, L.A., & Tinker, R.H. (1995). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for psychologically traumatized individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 928-937

7Wilson, S.A., Becker, L.A., & Tinker, R.H. (1997). Fifteen-month follow-up of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for PTSD and psychological trauma. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 1047-1056.

8Carlson, J.G., Chemtob, C.M., Rusnak, K., Hedlund, N.L., & Muraoka, M.Y. (1998). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11, 3-24.

9Vaughan, K., Armstrong, M.F., Gold, R., O'Connor, N., Jenneke, W., & Tarrier, N. (1994). A trial of eye movement desensitization compared to image habituation training and applied muscle relaxation in post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry, 25, 283-291.

10Power, K. G., McGoldrick, T., Brown, K., Buchanan, R., Sharp, D., Swanson, V., & Karatzias, A. (2002). A controlled comparison of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing versus exposure plus cognitive restructuring, versus waiting list in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 9, 299-318.

11Devilly, G. J., & Spence, S. H. (1999). The relative efficacy and treatment distress of EMDR and a cognitive behavioral trauma treatment protocol in the amelioration of post traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 13, 131-157.

12Sprang, G. (2001). The use of eye movement desensitizatioin and reprocessing (EMDR) in the treatment of traumatic stress and complicated mourning: Psychological and behavioral outcomes. Research on Social Work Practice, 11, 300-320.

13Chemtob, C.M., Nakashima,J. Hamada R.S. & Carlson, J.G. (2002). Brief Treatment for Elementary School Children with disaster-related posttraumatic stress disorder: A field study. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58,99-112.

14Shapiro, F. (1995). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (1st edition). New York: Guilford Press

15Taylor, S. et al. (2003). Comparative efficacy, speed, and adverse effects of three PTSD treatments: Exposure therapy, EMDR, and relaxation training. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 330-338.

16Silver, S.M., Brooks, A., & Obenchain, J. (1995). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment of Vietnam war veterans with PTSD: Comparative effects with biofeedback and relaxation training. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8, 337-342.