Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment in the medical setting: a systematic review

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Literature points towards the potential benefits of the application of Eye Movement and Desensitization Processing (EMDR)-therapy for patients in the medical setting, with cancer and pain being among the domains it is applied to. The field of applying EMDR-therapy for patients treated in the medical setting has evolved to such an extent that it may be challenging to get a comprehensive overview. Objective: This systematic literature review aims to evaluate the use and effectiveness of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in patients treated in the medical setting. 


We performed a literature search following the PRISMA guidelines. Studies were included if the effectiveness of EMDR-therapy was assessed in adult patients treated in a medical setting. Excluded were patients exclusively suffering from a mental health disorder, without somatic comorbidity. A risk of bias analysis was performed. This review was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42022325238). 


Eighty-seven studies, of which 26 (pilot)-RCTs were included and categorized in 14 medical domains. Additionally, three studies focusing on persistent physical complaints were included. Most evidence exists for its application in the fields of oncology, pain, and neurology. The overall appraisal of these studies showed at least moderate to high risks of bias. EMDR demonstrated effectiveness in reducing symptoms in 85 out of 87 studies. Notably, the occurrence of adverse events was rarely mentioned. 


Overall, outcomes seem to show beneficial effects of EMDR on reducing psychological and physical symptoms in patients treated in a medical setting. Due to the heterogeneity of reported outcomes, effect sizes could not be pooled. Due to the high risk of bias of the included studies, our results should be interpreted with caution and further controlled high-quality research is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2341577
JournalEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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