Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in eating disorders: Caution against premature acceptance

Authors

  • James I. Hudson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    • McLean Hospital 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02178
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  • Emily A. Chase,

    1. Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Harrison G. Pope Jr.

    1. Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Objective

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has been claimed effective in the treatment of a wide variety of psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders. An informal survey suggests that EMDR is now widely offered to patients with eating disorders. Before accepting a new therapy such as EMDR, one must determine that its benefits outweigh its adverse effects. This paper reviews the literature in an attempt to assess the benefits and risks of the use of EMDR in the treatment of eating disorders. Method: We reviewed the literature on the use of EMDR to treat eating disorders and other conditions. Results: Looking at the question of its benefits, we were unable to find any methodologically sound studies that have shown efficacy for EMDR in eating disorders, or, indeed, any psychiatric disorder. We were also unable to find a sound theoretical basis for expecting EMDR to be effective. In addition, EMDR may have adverse effects. First, EMDR is sometimes used in conjunction with efforts to “recover” memories of traumatic events. But “recovered memory” therapy may carry a risk of inducing potentially harmful false memories. Second, use of EMDR may prevent or delay other therapies of established efficacy for eating disorders, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants. Discussion: In light of the findings of our review, the risk/benefit ratio of EMDR does not as yet encourage its widespread acceptance. © 1998 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 23: 1–5, 1998.

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