Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Strong evidence – there is lots of high-quality evidence that some young people find this treatment option helpful.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is based on the idea that symptoms of PTSD are caused by memories of a traumatic event which you weren’t able to process properly at the time. The unprocessed memories are thought to contain the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and physical sensations you felt during the traumatic event. When your memories are triggered, so are these disturbing thoughts and feelings, causing the symptoms of PTSD. 

EMDR aims to help you to reprocess your traumatic memories, so that you can think about them without the distressing thoughts and feelings. 

EMDR is usually delivered once or twice a week, for 6 to 12 sessions. During your sessions you will be asked to recall the traumatic event while moving your eyes from side to side by following your therapists finger, or while doing another task (such as tapping). With the help of your therapist you can then start to make different associations with the memory. The aim of the treatment is to help you to be able to remember the traumatic event without feeling as distressed or anxious. 

There is a lot of research on EMDR for adults with PTSD and some with older young people, but there is less evidence for children. For adults, there is some evidence that EMDR and TF-CBT are equally effective. 

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We’d also like to set optional analytics to help us improve it. We won’t set optional cookies unless you enable them. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookies page

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics cookies

We’d like to set non-essential cookies, such as Google Analytics, to help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone. For more information on how these cookies work, please see our Cookies page. If you are 16 or under, please ask a parent or carer for consent before accepting.