EMDR: What Science Says About Its Potential Benefits

This article is taken from special issue n ° 196 of Science and the Future “How the Spirit Heals the Body”.


It is to Francine Shapiro, American psychologist, that we owe the discovery and development of EMDR therapy at the end of the 1980s. The acronym stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”, in French “desensitization” and retreatment by eye movement “. This method aims to revive a painful event locked in the emotional brain so that it can be treated like any other information. EMDR relies primarily on stimulation of the body, with fairly short series (30 seconds to a few minutes) of rapid eye movements (left to right). But the practitioner can also have recourse to auditory stimuli (alternation of a sound from one ear to the other) or tactile (alternating tapping on the palms of the hands or the legs), at the same time as the patient remembers voluntary way the traumatic memory. The movements of the eye reproduce mechanisms similar to those observed during REM sleep (also called REM sleep for “Rapid Eye Movement”). They would facilitate the treatment of the painful event by decreasing the activity of the limbic system (emotional brain). This information would then lose its traumatic character and could be transferred and processed normally by the cortex (long-term memory).


Its effectiveness was first demonstrated on veterans of the Vietnam War (1), then more recently in the management of post-traumatic stress syndrome in victims of natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes) (2) and terrorism. (3). EMDR is also recommended by the French National Authority for Health (HAS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for this indication. The technique could also help to free oneself from certain addictions (alcoholism, smoking, drug addiction, anorexia / bulimia), but there is still a lack of large-scale studies on the subject, as well as on potential effects in the treatment of panic disorders and agoraphobia.


1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Treatment of Vietnam War Veterans with PTSD, Silver et al, Journal of Traumatic Stres, 1995.

2. The Effects of EMDR Therapy on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Survivors of the 1999 Marmara, Konuk, et al, International Journal of Stress Management, 2006.

3. EMDR Therapy Following the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, Silver et al, International Journal of Stress Management, 2005.

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