Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for the Treatment of Psychosis: A Systematic Review

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Rosie Adams, Sally Ohlsen & Emily Wood


Background: Psychosis is a public health concern. There is increasing evidence suggesting trauma can play a pivotal role in the development and maintenance of psychosis. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective treatment for trauma and could be a vital addition to the treatment of psychosis. This review explores the evidence for EMDR as a treatment for psychosis, focussing on the safety, effectiveness and acceptability of this intervention for this population.

Methods: Four databases (Cochrane, EMBASE, MEDLINE PsychINFO), and the Francine Shapiro Library were systematically searched, along with grey literature and reference lists of relevant papers. No date limits were applied as this is an area of emerging evidence. Studies were screened for eligibility based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. The included studies were quality assessed and data was extracted from the individual studies, and synthesised using a narrative synthesis approach.

Results: Six studies met the inclusion criteria (1 RCT, 2 Pilot studies, 2 Case series and 1 Case report). Across the studies EMDR was associated with reductions in delusional and negative symptoms, mental health service and medication use. Evidence for reductions in auditory hallucinations and paranoid thinking was mixed. No adverse events were reported, although initial increases in psychotic symptoms were observed in two studies. Average dropout rates across the studies were comparable to other trauma-focused treatments for PTSD. The acceptability of EMDR was not adequately measured or reported.

Conclusion: EMDR appears a safe and feasible intervention for people with psychosis. The evidence is currently insufficient to determine the effectiveness and acceptability of the intervention for this population. Larger confirmative trials are required to form more robust conclusions.

Keywords: EMDR; Psychosis; trauma; Systematic Review; psychological intervention

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