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What do clients say about their experiences of EMDR in the research literature? A systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative research papers - 06/04/19

Doi : 10.1016/j.ejtd.2019.03.002 
James Whitehouse
 School of Environment, Education and Development, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, M13 9PL Manchester, United Kingdom 

Sous presse. Épreuves corrigées par l'auteur. Disponible en ligne depuis le samedi 06 avril 2019



Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been shown to be efficacious for PTSD in adults and children in quantitative research, and its effectiveness has been demonstrated in qualitative studies. Limited research, however, has investigated EMDR from the perspective of clients. Therefore, this systematic review aims to locate and assess the qualitative empirical research about clients’ experiences of EMDR.

Data sources

Adhering to a pre-defined protocol, the title, abstracts and keywords of 2489 papers retrieved using keyword searches related to EMDR from 5 electronic academic databases (ASSIA, ERIC, PsycINFO, SCOPUS and Web of Science) were screened. Twenty-seven full-text articles were assessed for eligibility. Five qualitative papers met the inclusion criteria and proceeded to quality assessment and data analysis.

Data synthesis

Thematic synthesis was applied to the findings of the primary research studies to generate over-arching concepts regarding what clients say about their experiences of EMDR.


Four super-ordinate themes (and 16 sub-themes) were identified in the data: EMDR changes a person, necessary conditions for EMDR to effect change, EMDR method as agent of change and EMDR therapist as agent of change.


EMDR is talked about in a transformative manner. There are conditions, which need to be present for EMDR to work, and connections exist between the EMDR method and therapist as agents of change. For practitioners, a pluralistic approach, incorporating the EMDR method could be used to carry out tasks in therapy to achieve therapeutic goals based on the client's requirements. In research, the paucity of qualitative studies could be addressed by engaging counselling psychologists, as scientific enquirers and artistic therapists, to expand research into clients’ experiences of EMDR to improve therapeutic practice and treatment programmes. Areas suggested for further qualitative experiential research include adverse effects, tolerability and withdrawal from therapy; EMDR for specific populations, such as combat veterans where the quantitative evidence is equivocal; and EMDR therapy practised in inpatient settings.

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Keywords : EMDR, Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, Qualitative, Counseling psychology, Systematic review


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