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Open Access Eye Movements Matter, But Why? Psychophysiological Correlates of EMDR Therapy to Treat Trauma in Timor-Leste

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This preliminary study examined the physiological correlates of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy when effectively used to treat trauma symptoms in a postconflict, developing nation, Timor-Leste. Participants were 20 Timorese adults with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms treated with EMDR therapy. PTSD, depression, and anxiety decreased significantly after an average of 4.15 (SD = 2.06) sessions. Continuous measures of heart rate, skin conductance, and respiration were collected during the first and last desensitization sessions. Physiological activity decreased in EMDR desensitization sessions, and eye movement sets were associated with an immediate significant decrease in heart rate and an increase in skin conductance, consistent with an orienting response. This response habituated within and across eye movement sets. These findings suggest that effective EMDR therapy is associated with de-arousal within sessions and that eye movement sets are associated with distinct physiological changes that may aid memory processing. The findings offer insight into the working mechanisms of EMDR when used to treat PTSD symptoms in a real-world, cross-cultural, postwar/conflict setting.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2016

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