Published:  2008-10-01

Alterations in autonomic tone during trauma exposure using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)—Results of a preliminary investigation

Authors:  Martin Sack, Wolfgang Lempa, Adrian Steinmetz, Friedhelm Lamprecht, Arne Hofmann

Tags:  EMDR, Impedance cardiography, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Psychophysiology

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EMDR combines stimuli that evoke divided attention – e.g. eye movements – with exposure to traumatic memories. Our objective was to investigate psycho-physiological correlates of EMDR during treatment sessions. A total of 55 treatment sessions from 10 patients with PTSD was monitored applying impedance cardiography. Onset of every stimulation/exposure period (n=811) was marked and effects within and across stimulation sets on heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), pre-ejection period (PEP) and respiration rate were examined. At stimulation onsets a sharp increase of HRV and a significant decrease of HR was noticed indicating de-arousal. During ongoing stimulation, PEP and HRV decreased significantly while respiration rate significantly increased, indicating stress-related arousal. However, across entire sessions a significant decrease of psycho-physiological activity was noticed, evidenced by progressively decreasing HR and increasing HRV. These findings suggest that EMDR is associated with patterns of autonomic activity associated with substantial psycho-physiological de-arousal over time.