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Comparing the efficacy of EMDR and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of PTSD: a meta-analytic study

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 November 2006

Background. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are both widely used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There has, however, been debate regarding the advantages of one approach over the other. This study sought to determine whether there was any evidence that one treatment was superior to the other.

Method. We performed a systematic review of the literature dating from 1989 to 2005 and identified eight publications describing treatment outcomes of EMDR and CBT in active–active comparisons. Seven of these studies were investigated meta-analytically.

Results. The superiority of one treatment over the other could not be demonstrated. Trauma-focused CBT and EMDR tend to be equally efficacious. Differences between the two forms of treatment are probably not of clinical significance. While the data indicate that moderator variables influence treatment efficacy, we argue that because of the small number of original studies, little benefit is to be gained from a closer examination of these variables. Further research is needed within the framework of randomized controlled trials.

Conclusions. Our results suggest that in the treatment of PTSD, both therapy methods tend to be equally efficacious. We suggest that future research should not restrict its focus to the efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency of these therapy methods but should also attempt to establish which trauma patients are more likely to benefit from one method or the other. What remains unclear is the contribution of the eye movement component in EMDR to treatment outcome.

Corresponding author
Psychosomatische Uniklinik, Abt. Psychosomatik, Sektion Psychotraumatologie, Thibautstr. 2, D-69115 Heidelberg, Germany. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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