Depression is one of the most common mental health issues. Although EMDR therapy is most widely known as a PTSD trauma treatment, using EMDR therapy to treat people struggling with depression is an accepted practice. Research supports EMDR as an effective treatment for depression as well, and this area continues to be studied as you can see in the resources listed below. Depression can make a person feel hopeless, stuck, and overwhelmed. Traumatic and stressful life events often contribute to or occur alongside depressive symptoms such as negative thoughts, depressed mood, empty or sad feelings, low sense of self-worth, and difficulty finding pleasure in life. EMDR therapy can provide relief for depressive symptoms, help reframe negative beliefs, resolve unprocessed trauma and adverse experiences, improve energy and mood, and create a more positive understanding of the self.
In our latest Go With That issue, EMDR and depression experts Arne Hofmann, M.D. and Maria Lehnung, Ph.D. wrote “EMDR Therapy in the Treatment of Depression.” They outline the existing research on EMDR and depression and outline the six steps of the EMDR and Depression DeprEnd Protocol.
“Looking from the angle of the adaptive information processing (AIP) model of EMDR therapy, the memory networks that trigger depressive episodes may not fulfill all criteria for the definition of “traumatic memories” (post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD Criterion A). However, they completely fit into Dr. Francine Shapiro’s description of dysfunctionally stored memories [or] … pathogenic memories (Hase et al, 2017). Pathogenic memories are biologically active and the cause of symptoms of diseases. [Pathogenic memories, or]… stressful life events, which often happen shortly before the onset of a depressive episode, are one of the common features that can be seen in many depressive patients. So identifying and processing these memories that we labeled episode triggers became one of the cornerstones of our EMDR DeprEnd treatment protocol.”
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*EMDRIA members have access to all articles and issues in the Go With That magazine.
EMDR and Depression Toolkit and Other Resources
- EMDRIA members can access the EMDR and Depression Toolkit for more information on EMDR and Depression, an EMDR and Depression client handout, tip sheets for working with this population, and more. These resources are available in English and Spanish.
- Check out the Focal Point Blog Post “Top Ten Tips for Working with Clients with Depression” by EMDRIA member Rachael Miller, LCPC, NCC.
- Browse our OnDemand library for continuing education opportunities on EMDR and Depression
EMDR and Depression Books and Chapters:
Hofmann, A., Hase, M., Liebermann, P., Ostacoli, L., Lehnung, M., Ebner, F., Rost, C., Luber, M., & Tumani, V. (2016). DeprEnd©-EMDR therapy protocol for the treatment of depressive disorder. In M. Luber [Ed.], Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy scripted protocols and summary sheets: Treating anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and mood-related conditions (pp. 290-323). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co.
Hofmann, A., Ostacoli, L., Lehnung, M., Luber, M., & Hase, M. Treating depression with EMDR therapy: Techniques and interventions. New York, NY: Springer Publishing
Knipe, J. (2009). “Shame is my safe place”: Adaptive information processing methods of resolving chronic shame-based depression. In R. Shapiro (Ed.), EMDR solutions II: For depression, eating disorders, performance, and more (pp. 49-89). New York, NY: Norton.
Shapiro, F., & Selk Forrest, M. (1997). EMDR: The breakthrough therapy for overcoming anxiety, stress, and trauma. New York, NY: Basic Books.
EMDR and Depression Peer-Reviewed Research Articles: Note that not all articles are open access, but those that are should be indicated that way.
Acarturk, C., Konuk, E., Cetinkaya, M., Senay, I., Sijbrandij, M., Gulen, B., & Cuijpers, P. (2016). The efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression among Syrian refugees: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 46(12), 2583-2593. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291716001070
Ahmed, A. (2018). EMDR therapy for an elderly woman with depression, traumatic memories, and Parkinson’s disease dementia: A case study. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 12(1), 16-23. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3126.96.36.199
Assmann, N., Fassbinder, E., Schaich, A., Lee, C. W., Boterhoven de Haan, K., Rijkeboer, M., & Arntz, A. (2021). Differential effects of comorbid psychiatric disorders on treatment outcome in posttraumatic stress disorder from childhood trauma. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 10(16), 3708. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm10163708
Bae, H., Kim, D., & Parke, Y. C. (2008). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for adolescent depression. Psychiatry Investigation. 5(1), 60-65. Open access: https://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2008.5.1.60
Bae, H., Kim, D., Cho, Y., Kim, D., & Kim, S. H. (2018). Add-on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for adults with posttraumatic stress disorder who failed to respond to initial antidepressant pharmacotherapy. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 33(48), e306. Open access: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6249165/
Baptist, J., Thompson, D. E., Spencer, C., Mowla, M. R., Love, H. A., & Su, Y. (2021). Clinical efficacy of EMDR in unipolar depression: Changes in theta cordance. Psychiatry Research, 296, 113696. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113696
Behnammoghadam, M., Alamdari, A. K., Behnammoghadam, A., & Darban, F. (2015). Effect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) on depression in patients with myocardial infarction. Global Journal Health Science, 7(6), 258-262. Doi:10.5539/Gjhs.V7n6p258. Open access: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/gjhs/article/view/47723
Behnammoghadam, M., Behnommooghadam, A., & Salehian, T. (2015). Efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) on depression in patients with myocardial infarction (MI) in a 12-month follow-up. Iranian Journal of Critical Care Nursing, 8(1), 221-226.
Broad, R. D., & Wheeler, K. (2006). An adult with childhood medical trauma treated with psychoanalytic psychotherapy and EMDR: A case study. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 42(2), 95-105. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6163.2006.00058.x
Capezzani, L., Ostacoli, L., Cavallo, M., Carletto, S., Fernandez, I., Solomon, R., Pagani, M., & Cantelmi, T. (2013). EMDR and CBT for cancer patients: Comparative study of effects on PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 7(3), 134-143. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3188.8.131.52
Carletto, S., Malandrone, F., Berchialla, P., Oliva, F., Colombi, N., Hase, M., Hofmann, A., & Ostacoli, L. (2021). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 12, 1894736. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2021.1894736
Carletto, S., Ostacoli, L., Colombi, N., Calorio, L., Oliva, F., Fernandez, I., & Hofmann, A. (2017). EMDR for depression: A systematic review of controlled studies. Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 14(5), 306-312. Open access: https://www.clinicalneuropsychiatry.org/clinical-neuropsychiatry-volume-14-issue-5-october-2017/
Dominguez, S., Drummond, P., Gouldthorp, B., Janson, D., & Lee, C. W. (2020). A randomized controlled trial examining the impact of individual trauma-focused therapy for individuals receiving group treatment for depression. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 12268. https://doi.org/10.1111/papt.12268
Dominguez, S. K., Matthijssen, S. J. M. A., & Lee, C. W. (2021). Trauma-focused treatments for depression. A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS one, 16(7), e0254778. Open access:
Draganovic, S. (2021). Barriers to psychological treatment of depression: Case study presentation of incomplete EMDR treatment. Psychiatria Danubina, 33(Suppl 1), 116-122. Retrieved from: http://www.psychiatria-danubina.com/2021-vol-33-sup-1/2354?tip=&datum_od=&datum_do=&detalji=2354&z=&page=5
El-Abbassy, A. A., EL Berry, K. I., El Mageed, H. H. A., & Amer, H. M. (2021). The effect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing technique on COVID-19 induced anxiety, depression, sleep quality among emergency nurses. Annals of the Romanian Society for Cell Biology, 25(5), 3185-3205. Open access retrieval from: http://annalsofrscb.ro/index.php/journal/article/view/4931
Fereidouni, Z., Behnammoghadam, M., Jahanfar, A., & Dehghan, A. (2019). The effect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) on the severity of suicidal thoughts in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Neuropyschiatric Disease and Treatment, 15, 2459-2466. Open access: https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S210757
Gauhar, Y. W. M. (2016). The efficacy of EMDR in the treatment of depression. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 10(2), 59-69. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3184.108.40.206
Grey, E. (2011). A pilot study of concentrated EMDR: A brief report. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 5(1), 14-24. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3220.127.116.11
Hase, M., Balmaceda, U., Hase, A., Lehnung, M., Tumani, V., Huchzermeier, C., & Hofmann, A. (2015). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in the treatment of depression: A matched-pairs study in an inpatient setting. Brain and Behavior, 5(6), e00342. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.342
Hase, M., Balmaceda, U., Ostacoli, L., Liebermann, P., & Hofmann, A. (2017). The AIP model of EMDR therapy and pathogenic memories. Frontiers in Psychology: Psychology for Clinical Settings, 01578. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01578
Hase, M., Plagge, J., Hase, A., Braas, R., Ostacoli, L., Hofmann, A., & Huchzermeier, C. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing versus treatment as usual in the treatment of depression: A randomized controlled trial. Frontiers of Psychology, 14(9), 1384. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01384
Hase, M. (2021). Instant resource installation and extensive resource installation – two novel techniques for resource installation in EMDR therapy – theory, description and case report. European Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 5(4), 100224. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejtd.2021.100224
Hatefi, M., Tarjoman, A., Moradi, S., & Borji, M. (2019). The effect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing on depression and anxiety in patients with spinal cord injuries. Trauma Monthly, 24(5), 1-6. Open access: https://dx.doi.org/10.5812/traumamon.92873
Hofmann, A., Hilgers, A., Lehnung, M., Liebermann, P., Ostacoli, L., Schneider, W., & Hase, M. (2014). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing as an adjunctive treatment of unipolar depression: A controlled study. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 8(3), 103-112. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-318.104.22.168
Jahanfar, A., Fereidouni, Z., Behnammoghadam, M., Deghgan, A., & Bashti, S. (2020). Efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing on the quality of life in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized clinical trial. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 13, 11-17. Open access: https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S232589
Kevser Boyraz, R., Kirpinar, I., Yilmaz, O., Ozyurt, O., Kilicarslan, T., & Aralasmak, A. (2021). A treatment-response comparison study of resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging between standard treatment of SSRI and standard treatment of SSRI plus non-dominant hand-writing task in patients with major depressive disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry: Neuroimaging and Stimulation, 698954. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.698954
Krupnik, V. (2015). Integrating EMDR into a novel evolutionary-based therapy for depression: A case study of postpartum depression. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 9(3), 137-149. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-322.214.171.124
Krupnik, V. (2018). Differential effects of an evolutionary-based EMDR therapy on depression and anxiety symptoms. Journal of Practice and Research, 12(2), 46-57. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-3126.96.36.199
Lei, S., & Zhen-Yin, W. (2007). Comparative study of sertraline combined with EMDR in the treatment of depression. Journal of Clinical Psychosomatic, 4(1), 307-308. Retrieved from: http://caod.oriprobe.com/articles/12867831/A_control_study_of_sertraline_combined_with_the_EMDR_in_the_treatment_.htm
Lobenstine, F., & Courtney, D. (2013). A case study: The integration of intensive EMDR and ego state therapy to treat comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 7(2), 65-80. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-3188.8.131.52
Malandrone, F., Carlett, S., Hofmann, A., Hase, M., & Ostacoli, L. (2019). A brief narrative summary of randomized controlled trials investigating EMDR treatment of patients with depression. Journal of Practice and Research, 13(4). Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-3184.108.40.2062
Matthijssen, S. J., Lee, C. W., de Roos, C., Barron, I. G., Jarero, I., Shapiro, E., et al. (2020). The current status of EMDR therapy, specific target areas, and goals for the future. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 14(4), 241– 256. Open access: http://doi.org/10.1891/EMDR-D-20-00039
Meentken, M. F., van der Mheen, M., van Beynum, I. M., Aendekerk, E. W. C., Legerstee, J. S., van der Ende, J., Del Canho, R., Lindauer, R. J. L., Hillegers, M. H. J., Moll, H. A., Helbing, W. A., & Utens, E. M. W. J. (2020). EMDR for children with medically related subthreshold PTSD: Short-term effects on PTSD, blood-injection-injury phobia, depression and sleep. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 11, 1705598. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2019.1705598
Minelli, A., Zampieri, E., Sacco, C., Bazzanella, R., Mezzetti, N., Tessari, E., Barlati, S., & Bortolomasi., M. (2019). Clinical efficacy of trauma-focused psychotherapies in treatment-resistant depression (TRD) in-patients. A randomized, controlled pilot-study. Psychiatry Research 273, 567-574. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.01.070
Ostacoli, L., Carletto, S., Marco, C., Baldomir-Gago, P., Di Lorenzo, G., Fernandez, I., Hase, M., Justo-Alonso, A., Lehnung, M., Migliaretti, F., Oliva, F., Pagani, M., Recarey-Eiris, S., Torta, R., Tumani, V., Gonzalez-Vazquez, A. I., & Hofmann, A. (2018). Comparison of eye movement desensitization reprocessing and cognitive behavioral therapy as adjunctive treatments for recurrent depression: The European Depression EMDR Network (EDEN) randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(74), 1-12. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00074
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Perlini, C., Donisi, V., Rossetti, M. F., Moltrasio, C., Bellani, M., & Brambilla, P. (2020). The potential role of EMDR on trauma in affective disorders: A narrative review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 269(15), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.03.001
Proudlock, S., & Peris, J. (2020). Using EMDR therapy with patients in an acute mental health crisis. BMC Psychiatry, 20, 14. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2426-7
Sepehry, A. A., Lam, K., Sheppard, M., Guirguis-Younger, M., & Maglio, A-S. (2021). EMDR for depression: A meta-analysis and systematic review. Journal of EMDR Practice & Research, 15(1), 2-17. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/EMDR-D-20-00038
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Levin, A. (Host). (2021, June 27). Al interviews Dr. Joyce Baptist, professor in the couple and family therapy program at Kansas State University, on the topic of eye movement desensitization & reprocessing (EMDR) therapy [Audio podcast episode]. In The Depression Files. Podbean. https://allevin18.podbean.com/e/al-interviews-dr-joyce-baptist-professor-inthecouple-andfamily-therapyprogram-at-kansas-stateuniversityonthe-topicof-eye-movementdesensitization-r/