Depression is an increasingly common illness in the Western world, with millions of sufferers in the US alone. We have already covered how EMDR can help with other conditions like anxiety, addiction and phobias, but can it also help with depression?

How EMDR Can Help

An EMDR expert goes into the strong link between conditions like depression and addiction and trauma, and how EMDR can help resolve the underlying trauma.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR is a therapeutic paradigm largely created for, and most effective at, dealing with trauma. Having been refined over several decades, it has proven so effective in this regard that it is an officially recommended therapy for the treatment of trauma by the World Health Organization.

Therefore, due to the strong correlation of depression with underlying trauma we mentioned above, EMDR can in a more indirect way be very effective in treating trauma based depression, since it can resolve the trauma that is at the root of it.

We will borrow authority from the EMDR practitioner in the video just above to summarize this point of the connection of depression with trauma and how EMDR can help.

“In depression there are often trauma issues, which play a significant part in that…..From an EMDR perspective we would be looking at the nature of people’s experiences and we would be focusing on what we would call distressing memories.

A memory that for that client, when they think about it or they activate that memory, that generates what we call a presently held level of disturbance. And if that memory generates that response, then there is a part that EMDR can play”

We have gone into details on how the EMDR process works in our DETAILED ARTICLE on the subject, but we will summarize the main 8 steps of the process below:

  1. Client History – Identify target memories.
  2. Preparation – Prepare the client appropriately for the therapy.
  3. Assessment – Fully assess and evaluate target memories, feelings, beliefs etc.
  4. Desensitization – Use eye movements or other forms of bilateral simulation to process memories.
  5. Installation – Install positive beliefs about self to replace negative beliefs and affects associated with memories.
  6. Body Scan – Eliminate any remaining physiological symptoms with further bilateral stimulation.
  7. Closure – Return client to safe calm equilibrium as session ends.
  8. Re-evaluation – Check that all aspects of memory have been fully processed.

Of course the process may be tailored and customized a little for each individual patient, but the entire methodology of EMDR is designed to access and process unresolved traumatic experiences to resolution using some form of bilateral stimulation, most often eye movements.

In this way the person’s mind/brain is able to fully process and “digest” distressing experiences from their past in a way they couldn’t at the time they initially happened because they were too overwhelming or distressing or too many events happened at once.

Successfully completing this process for the key traumatic events in a person’s life can have the knock on effect of also resolving any other psychological conditions which are derived from the trauma, including depression.

Supporting Studies for EMDR for Depression

There are now plenty of academic studies supporting the effectiveness of EMDR in treating depression, especially if the depression itself results from unresolved trauma in the sufferer. Here is a selection of a few of the studies conducted on EMDR as a treatment for depression.

  • 2006 study by Van der Kolk et al. on EMDR contrasting the use of EMDR and medication for depression (cited in video just below).
  • 2008 Study by Bae, Kim & Park on EMDR as a treatment for adolescent depression (cited in video just below).
  • 2016 paper: The Efficacy of EMDR in the treatment of depression.
  • 2015 study in EMDR for treating depression – matched pairs study.
  • 2014 paper on using EMDR to reduce symptoms of PTSD, including depression
  • Research summary page with links to plenty of studies on EMDR for the treatment of PTSD, Depression and Anxiety.

All the studies on this find a significant benefit of EMDR treatment on symptoms of depression and depressive disorder. It has been proven to be a very effective treatment for a wide range of psychological conditions.

Is EMDR effective for treating depression?

EMDR can be very useful for dealing with depression if the depression itself is a result of trauma suffered. By resolving the underlying trauma with EMDR, any depression stemming from the trauma can often fall away of it’s own accord, since the root cause has been resolved.

Since there is a high correlation of adult depression to childhood (or adult) trauma of some kind, then it does appear that EMDR can help with depression in a more indirect way by addressing and processing this trauma.

From this can result a liberating of the sufferer from distressing memories in their past, and so many psychological conditions stemming from this, including depression, can also disappear as a result. Let’s look at the nature of depression and how EMDR can help in a little more detail.

PTSD and Depression

Depression can show up as one of the more common symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It can in fairness also show up for other reasons, but there is still a very strong correlation between depression and trauma, as shown in mutiple studies such as the one linked above.

This depression can manifest in a number of ways. Here are some of the more common symptoms:

  • Chronic low mood
  • Isolation from others
  • Inability to get enjoyment out of things they once did.
  • A more chronic underlying low level form of depression where the person seems unable to get any happiness of joy out of life – often known as Dysthymia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Change in weight, either through undereating or overeating
  • Feelings of low self esteem, worthlessness and in more extreme cases suicidal thoughts.

Any of these symptoms in tandem can be debilitating to a person’s quality of life, and so finding an effective solution to depression is very important. A very general way of summarizing depression is simply that the person is not living fully and authentically, instead living a very limited and joyless existence.

In rare cases depression can have a physiological basis, but in most cases there is a strong psychological underpinning to the condition. It does not just appear out of nowhere. There are usually other factors driving the depression, including trauma, which is where EMDR can come in useful. Let’s look at how in more detail.

Other Approaches to Tackling Depression

Of course not all cases of depression result from trauma, in which case EMDR may not be quite so effective as a treatment, though it may help to reduce any states of internal distress. However, there are plenty of other approaches that can be taken to tackle depression.

Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Regular Exercise.
  • Mindfulness meditation – a hugely useful practice – see below.
  • Developing social life and support circles.
  • Proper diet, rest and sleep
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol which can make depression worse.
  • Psychotherapy – whether cognitive therapy or EMDR if trauma is considered a factor in the depression.

We want to emphasise mindfulness in particular as a hugely beneficial, completely free, holistic and portable approach to treating depression. This is why we feature it on this side alongside EMDR, since combined together the two can be a very powerful way of addressing a very wide range of psychological conditions.

This is particularly the case if the depression results from a “tangling up” of the mind in the sense of the person getting caught up in rumination, with mood and thinking getting caught in a downward spiral. See the excellent video below on this.

See here for a research paper in the effectiveness of using EMDR to treat depression. See our Find a Therapist page to search for an EMDR practitioner in your area.

See also:


  • Mary-Beth Zolik, M.Ed LMHC

    Mary-Beth is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with a M.Ed in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Montevallo. Mary-Beth has been in the field of psychology in a variety of roles for the past 20 years.

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