Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro starting in 1988 in which the person being treated is asked to recall distressing images; the therapist then directs the patient in one type of bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping. According to the 2013 World Health Organization practice guideline: “This therapy [EMDR] is based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the result of unprocessed memories. The treatment involves standardized procedures that include focusing simultaneously on (a) spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations and (b) bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements.”
EMDR is included in several evidence-based guidelines for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – with varying levels of recommendation and evidence (very low to moderate per WHO stress guidelines). As of 2020, the American Psychological Association lists EMDR as an evidence-based treatment for PTSD but stresses that “the available evidence can be interpreted in several ways” and notes there is debate about the precise mechanism by which EMDR appears to relieve PTSD symptoms with some evidence EMDR may simply be a variety of exposure therapy.